Should Japanese drop the Valentine's custom of 'giri-choco?'

Box of Valentine's Chocolate sold in Okinawa.  Photo by Nelo Hotsuma / Creative Commons

Box of Valentine's Chocolate sold in Okinawa. Photo by Nelo Hotsuma / Creative Commons


Valentine’s Day in Japan is celebrated differently than in places like the United States, including the uniquely Japanese creation of "White Day" celebrated on March 14th

Another unique tradition is the different names to describe Valentine’s chocolates, depending on the giver’s intention. Honnmei choco (本命チョコ) is chocolate a girl gives to her crush, and it’s usually homemade chocolate or expensive chocolate. Giri-choco (義理チョコ, roughly translated into obligatory chocolate), is given to male coworkers as a sort of all-purpose thank-you for support, cooperation, and all-around nicetities in the workplace. Tomo-choco (友チョコ) is given to female friends.

Interestingly, there are changes with these tradition in recent years, which mirrors changing attitudes in broader Japanese society.

One of the changes is the emerging argument to abolish the practice of giri-choco (obligatory chocolate) giving. Of course there are no rules to force women to give giri choco, but women often feel pressure and worry about offending their coworkers by not giving giri choco. Because of the financial and social burden, some people support banning giri choco giving.

Even a chocolate company, GODIVA Japan, ran an ad asking Japanese women to stop buying giri choco on February 1st in 2018. It became a hot topic when GODIVA said: 

“There are women who say they hate Valentine’s Day, and there are also women who feel relieved when Valentine’s Day falls on a weekend. Why? Because of the difficulty and inconvenience of thinking of who to give giri choco to, and then having to buy it... Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day when you tell someone your pure feelings. It’s not a day on which you’re supposed to do something extra for the sake of smooth relations at work.”

In fact, a survey by Nihon Legal Information, Inc. shows that 75% of women support abolishing giri choco giving in office. In addition to the burden for women, it is said that the practice invites risk of miscommunication and increases the risk of sexual harassment. There are also men who are against the giri choco practice because of the burden of returning gifts on "White Day" (in Japan, March 14th is called “White Day” and it is a day for women to get gifts from men in return for Valentine’s chocolate).

The other change is the emerge of gyaku choco (逆チョコ, roughly translated into “reverse chocolate”). It describes chocolate which guys give to their crush.  This idea was proposed about 10 years ago, by Japanese chocolate company Morinaga. Although gyaku choco giving is not common yet, awareness is growing.  

It is interesting that chocolate giving shows power dynamics between men and women throughout the years. Although the choice whether you give chocolate or not should be personal, it is complicated in a work place where interpersonal relationship might affect your performance and promotion (especially Japanese working culture which takes relationships seriously!) You stop giving chocolate to your boss, and look bad compared to your colleagues. So obligation chocolate should be abolished.

If you feel sad about it, it is time for you to find someone who give you honnmei choco!


What is Setsubun? Get a bean and warm up your throwing arm

Setsubun festivities at Rozanji Temple in Kyoto, Japan. (Photo: ©Christian Kaden / , Creative Commons)

Setsubun festivities at Rozanji Temple in Kyoto, Japan. (Photo: ©Christian Kaden /, Creative Commons)


Setsubun is always held on February 3, when many Japanese celebrate the beginning of Spring, but also the Lunar New Year. The original meaning of Setsubun “節分” is “the day between seasons”, and the word refers to the last day of winter.

There are several traditions of Setsubun, but the most popular custom is bean throwing.

Shrines and temples across Japan hold events where people connect and throw roasted soybeans against people dressed as Oni, or ogres, to get rid of evil spirits and illness. The custom is also used to promote good fortune.

Bean throwing is held at home, too. Back in Japan, we throw roasted soybeans out the door and shout "鬼は外!福は内!(Oni-wa-soto! Fuku-wa-uchi!: Out with evil! In with fortune!)".  After that, we eat a specific number of soybeans that coincides with our age. We hope the year brings happiness and good health.

Each family has their own way of bean throwing. In my family, we throw beans in each single room in our house, so we needed to pick beans up after we were done with one room.

Since the number of beans were limited and we wanted to throw beans a lot, my sisters and I competed to pick beans up.

Regardless of how you celebrate, Setsubun is a fantastic Japanese event where you can have fun and wish happiness. If you have never done Setsubun, you should definitely do it this weekend!

Learn more about the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America's Setsubun here

The Last Boat Out

Hikawa Maru on her maiden voyage on May 22, 1930. The Hikawa Maru was the only large Japanese ocean liner to survive World War II. ( Photo by Yokohama Dock Company, Public Domain )

Hikawa Maru on her maiden voyage on May 22, 1930. The Hikawa Maru was the only large Japanese ocean liner to survive World War II. (Photo by Yokohama Dock Company, Public Domain)


Joan Tomiko Seko at about 18 months of age with my mother Haruno. ( Courtesy photo )

Joan Tomiko Seko at about 18 months of age with my mother Haruno. (Courtesy photo)

    I had dual citizenship  American and Japanese. I had to make a choice and I chose American. I believe if you want to live in the United States and have all the benefits, you should have only an American citizenship.

    When I was four years old, my parents and I left Seattle to visit my ailing paternal grandmother in Hiroshima-ken, Japan. We lived there for over nine months and I became fluent in the Japanese language. The year was 1941.

    My father’s schoolmaster came to tell us World War II was imminent. If we wanted to return to the United States there were two ships leaving Yokohama Bay in just a few days. We rushed to Yokohama and were able to get berths on the Hikawa-Maru.

    We crossed the International Date Line one day before the second ship. We continued to the Port of Seattle. The second ship was not as lucky and had to turn back to Japan.

    When we were coming down the gangplank we noticed a lot of media greeting our arrival. I found out later we were the last ship to be allowed to return to the United States. We were grateful.

    After spending a week at immigration we went into the city of Seattle. Later in the day we decided to go see a movie downtown.

    We were surprised when the “Movietone News” came on, and we saw ourselves coming down the gangplank into the Port of Seattle. We were newsworthy and minor celebrities-although briefly.

    I guess we shouldn’t have celebrated so soon. 

    We were later put into horse stalls at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. We were awaiting the completion of our final destination at the internment camp called Minidoka, in Idaho.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Joan Tomiko Morishima Seko was born in June 1937, in Seattle. Her family was incarcerated in 1942 at Puyallup and the Minidoka WRA. She attended Garfield HS and the University of Washington. For 47 years, Joan and her husband Roy owned and operated Bush Garden-a historic Seattle International District restaurant.

2018 Tomodachi Honorees Strengthen US-Japan Tie

Phyllis J. Campbell and Ichiro Fujisaki. (Courtesy Photos)

Phyllis J. Campbell and Ichiro Fujisaki. (Courtesy Photos)


The Japanese Cultural and Community Centerof Washington is pleased to announce the 2018 recipients of the Tomodachi Award. Phyllis J. Campbell and Ichiro Fujisaki reflect the spirit of the award withtheir dedication to positive relations between the U.S. and Japan.

Campbell is Chairman, Pacific Northwest for JPMorgan Chase Northwest, one of the few women ofcolor serving as a senior executive of a major bank in the country. Campbell sits on the Diversity Advisory Board of Toyota North America and has served as a Director on the boards of Nordstrom Inc., Alaska Air Group and is Chair of the Board of the U.S.-Japan Council. Campbell has been a longtime advocate and mentor, supporting advancement for women inbusiness, particularly on Boards of Directors. Recently, Campbell has led workshops and made several speeches encouraging women in Japan to pursue opportunities in business, especially at the Board level.

Fujisaki served as Japan's Ambassador to the United States from 2008 – 2012. In his diplomatic career,he also served as Director-General of the North American Affairs Bureau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs. He served in Jakarta, London, and Paris. He has specialties to the Northwest, having attended middle school in Seattle when his father, Masato Fujisaki, served as Consul General from 1960-1962. Duringa visit to the “J” in 2010, Fujisaki was delighted to see a calligraphy written in 1901 by his great-greatgrandfather Hirobumi Ito, who was Japan's first prime minister. Even in retirement, Fujisaki serves on the Board of Councilors of the U.S.-Japan Council. Most recently, Fujisaki has been accompanying young Japanese leaders, artists, and entrepreneurs to the U.S. to promote modern Japanese culture.

If you're interested in honoring Campbell and Fujisaki, learn more about their appearance at this year's Tomodachi event.

Happy Campers: ‘J’ Hosts 22 Youth During Annual Summer Camp

Summer campers were excited to learn taiko – traditional Japanese drumming. (Photo by Catherine Dodd)

Summer campers were excited to learn taiko – traditional Japanese drumming. (Photo by Catherine Dodd)


The fifth annual summer camp at the JCCCW has come to an end, and fun times were had by all! This year was the JCCCW’s biggest camp yet, with 22 campers from grades 2-8!

The week-long camp focused on Japanese language and culture. Each day began with Japanese language classes, during which the campers learned how to say everything from “hello” to what they like to eat and drink. The afternoons were filled with a variety of cultural activities. Campers participated in martial arts, taiko drumming, an assortment of crafts, and even created their own bento lunches!

As a summer intern, I got to know each of the campers and was able to talk with some of them in depth about their experiences. Here are the stories of three enthusiastic kids who loved their experience at camp.

Lior is 13 years old. He already knew a bit about Japan from the large amount of anime he has watched. He loves learning about other countries and is fascinated by the differences in the languages, peoples, and cultures. Lior enrolled in camp because he wanted to learn more about Japan. In fact, he hopes to participate in a gap year in Japan before he goes to college! He is especially interested in spending time in Tokyo because there is so much to see and do. When I told him about the time I spent in Kyoto, he got really excited and now wants to visit the ancient capital, too!

Sula is 7 years old. Like Lior, she really wants to visit Japan one day. Sula already knew some Japanese before coming to camp this summer. In fact, she has taken Japanese Language School classes at the JCCCW and is already up to the intermediate level! She loved participating in kamishibai, a traditional form of Japanese street theater and storytelling. All of the campers created illustrations for a kamishibai story to be performed at their graduation ceremony. Sula volunteered to help perform the story and did a fantastic job!

From left to right: Lior, Sula, and Alex. (Photos by Catherine Dodd)

From left to right: Lior, Sula, and Alex. (Photos by Catherine Dodd)

Alex is 9 years old. He attended camp last summer and was really excited to come back this year! One of his favorite activities last year was dressing up in yukata, a traditional Japanese garment worn in the summer that looks like a casual kimono. Alex even owns his own yukata with a lion on the back. He enjoyed all of the many activities at camp this year and would love to spend more time at the JCCCW. He really wants to explore Hosekibako, our resale shop showcasing Japanese items that date as far back as World War II!

These 3 campers are a good representation of the excitement for Japanese language and culture that all of the 22 campers shared. They signed up for camp wanting to make friends while learning all they could about Japan. Some of them were from Seattle and some of them travelled from different states to join us. A few campers returned for their second year, and by the end of week, many decided that they want to come back next year! While the kids enjoyed all of the activities and had a difficult time picking favorites, highlights included Japanese language class, bento making, and taiyaki making.

As a JCCCW intern, I have a true passion for Japan. I studied  abroad in the country for 4 months and made many wonderful Japanese friends. I was thrilled to learn that many of the campers want to visit Japan someday. All 22 of them helped make the camp a big success, and we at the JCCCW are very grateful to their families for allowing them to join us for a week of fun, learning, and fond memories.