Valentine’s Day and White Day: Celebrating Love in Japan

Love is in the air as February 14th quickly approaches. In the West, and especially in the United States, Valentine’s Day is the holiday where you show your significant other just how much they mean to you through gifts of jewelry, flowers, chocolate, or whatever speaks to your partner. But over time, the holiday has been adapted by other cultures and sometimes that means the traditions change. In Japan, you’ll find that – while the core elements of Valentine’s Day in the West are largely the same – there are some traditions that are wholly Japanese.


While Valentine’s Day has much older roots in Western society, Japan began to celebrate the holiday in the 1950s, as society began to shift following World War II. Traditionally, women confessing their feelings to men was taboo. The act of kokuhaku (こくはく), or confessing one’s feelings, was largely seen as a man’s job.

Confectioners who had known about the Western holiday saw an opportunity. They began running advertisements geared at a female demographic in order to sell chocolates. Women could risk revealing their feelings on this day and offer their interest chocolates as a gift. Valentine’s Day became the one day of the year when it was socially acceptable for women to confess to their male love interests.

The holiday continued to evolve into what it is today, and expanded from a day to confess to a day women showed their love and appreciation to the men in their lives.

Similarities to the West

The primarily similarities to Western traditions are that the holiday centers around love and appreciation. Pink and red decorations are on full display as shops push their chocolate sales. Gift giving is a common practice, and that extended to Japan. However, much of Japan’s traditions are far more specific.

It’s All in the Details

Unlike in the United States and other Western cultures, there are not a multitude of acceptable gifts to choose from regarding Valentine’s Day in Japan. The holiday is all about the chocolates. And the type of chocolates matter greatly as they are meant to show how important someone is to the gift giver.

Chocolates are also not reserved for ones romantic partner or crush either. Traditions have chocolate gifts going to friends, classmates, co-workers, and so on. The expectation is so high that there is even a classification of “obligatory chocolates” for those who received a gift because the giver felt they had to. There will be more on that later.

Finally, and perhaps this is where the holiday ventures the farthest away from Western tradition: Valentine’s Day is the day females give chocolates to their male counterparts exclusively. Furthermore, there is an entirely separate holiday in which men are expected to reciprocate, which is exactly one month later on March 14th.

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White Day

March 14th is known as White Day, in which men who received chocolates on Valentine’s Day are now meant to repay their Valentines. In the 1970’s a confection in Japan began marketing marshmallows to men, originally dubbing the date “Marshmallow Day” before they then began advertising white chocolate instead and White Day became the name.

White Day is meant to be a day of reciprocation. Men who received chocolates for Valentine’s Day would give their answer to her. Unlike Valentine’s Day, White Day is not necessarily limited to chocolates. Men can give gifts of chocolate, cookies, marshmallows, or white accessories. However, men are expected to give gifts of three times the value of that which they received.

Types of Chocolates

Honmei-Choco (本命チョコ): These are the chocolates you would give to a lover or crush. They are typically either handmade chocolates or high-end, expensive chocolates.

Giri-Choco (義理チョコ): Gifts for friends, bosses, co-workers, or customers. They are meant to show gratitude towards the receiver and are typically reasonably priced. These are sometimes referred to as “obligation chocolates” because, while they show appreciation, they do not have any significance or personalization to them.

Tomo-Choco (友チョコ): The friends’ chocolates, and these can be given to female friends. These are often given to friends by teenagers to show proof of their friendship and while they don’t need to be expensive they are often catered to their friend’s tastes.

Fami-Choco (ファミチョコ): Chocolates given by female family members to their male counterparts. They are often handmade and the making of them is treated as a family bonding experience for the women of the household.

Traditions Change

Giri-choco, often called “obligation chocolates” are largely falling out of favor with younger generations. Younger people in Japan are less inclined to want to spend needlessly as living wages across the globe become less and less obtainable. Buying things like omiyage (お土産), or souvenirs, for all their co-workers and neighbors is becoming a less-common practice, as is giri-choco.

If you are looking for more romance on the other side of the world, I also have an article about Taiwan’s Valentine’s Day. This holiday comes later in the year and is based on the Lunar Calendar.


Picture of K. Straub-Kuo

K. Straub-Kuo

K has been writing since she was in middle school. She has always loved telling stories and loves to do research on topics that fascinate her even more. K developed an interest in cultures at an early age, but it wasn't until high school that she became fascinated with East Asia's rich cultural heritage that blends seamlessly with the rapid advancements that cause their cities to thrive. Her interest only grew more when she met her Taiwanese-Native husband, whose expansive travel experiences have encouraged her wanderlust. She takes every opportunity presented to her to try something new and is always thrilled to share her experiences with her readers.
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11 Day Back roads of Japan Tour with Project Expedition

***Note: meals are largely excluded on this tour and are the responsibility of tour members***

Days 1-2: Tokyo

There is no itinerary upon arrival until the welcome meeting which will take place in the evening. The first day will consist of learning more about your tour and meeting your guides. Day two is a walking tour of the fashion district of Harajuku. This eclectic district is popular for its eccentric fashion and youth culture. In the afternoon you will get a chance to visit Sensoji Temple, Meiji Shrine, and the surrounding attractions. 

Day 3: Nagano

You will take Japan’s famed bullet train to Nagano before checking into your accommodations. The highlight of this trip is the Jigokudani Monkey Park, where you will get to observe Japan’s bathing snow monkeys enjoying a bath in the natural hot springs.

Day 4: Matsumoto/Nagano

Enjoy a day trip to visit one of Japan’s most beloved castles: Matsumoto Castle. Afterwards, return to Nagano to venture off to Zenkoji Temple, one of Japan’s last standing pilgrimage sties. 

Day 5: Ōtsu 

Travel in the morning to Ōtsu for some stunning views of Japan’s largest lake: Lake Biwa. Top off the night with a delicious ramen dinner. 

Day 6-7: Hagi

Enjoy a quick breakfast before an extended drive to Hagi. You will then check into your local homestay. Pack for two nights as your remaining luggage will be sent to the next destination by your tour company. Make sure you pack comfortably for outdoor activities. This is a chance to experience life like a local as you meet your host family and take part in a welcome ceremony and dinner. 

Day two is an active day as you take a guided cycle tour around Hagi Castle. Afterward, you will have time to participate in seasonal activities with the locals. You will enjoy a homecooked dinner with your host family.

Day 8-9: Tottori

After breakfast with your host family, take a scenic trip by train on your way to Mihomisumi. There, enjoy learning the art of Washi paper making before hopping on another train to Tottori. 

In the morning, explore the unusual Tottori Sand Dunes along the Sea of Japan’s coastline. After that, make your way to the local fish market for some fantastic seafood lunch options. End the day with a trip to Kyoto to check in to your accommodations. 

Days 10-11: Kyoto

Take a morning trip to the well-known Fushimi Inari-Taisha, one of Kyoto’s many beautiful local shrines. This is where you will find the mystical  trail of torii gates along its trails. After this, you will have free time to explore what Kyoto has to offer. Recommended sites include a walk through the geisha district of Gion, exploration of Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion, and a visit to Kiyomizu Temple. 

The next day marks the end of the tour. Public transit is available to the airport, or you can speak to your guide to help find accommodations if you wish to extend your stay. 

Sample of an 11-Day Intrepid Tour

Days 1-2: Taipei City

Take the first day to relax and unwind after your travels before joining your group for dinner. After a good night’s sleep, enjoy learning about Taiwan’s love of sweet potatoes at Sweet Potato Mama for some spud-filled activities. Check out Shilin Night Market to enjoy Taipei’s variable food culture.

Days 2-3: Hualien

Enjoy nature at Danong Dafu Forest Park before spending the evening enjoying even more street food at the local night markets (you may have noticed a trend). Visit Qingshui cliff before venturing off to the famous Taroko Gorge.

Day 5: Yilan

Visit one of Yilan’s well-known onion farms to learn about the agriculture behind them before learning to make a Taiwanese favorite: scallion pancakes!

Day 6: Turtle Island and Jiufen

Set out on a 3-hour cruise around Turtle Island before travelling off to Jiufen, famed by Hayao Miyazaki as the inspiration for Spirited Away. You will be able to explore Old Street on your own. My suggestion: Eat everything ,try lots of samples, and make time for tea at the famous Teahouse.

Days 7-8: Sun Moon Lake

You’ll get to hike from the base of the mountainous area through the trails that snake up the mountain. You can then climb the Pagoda which marks the end of your trek for some incredible views. The next day you will get to explore the Chung Tai Chan Monastery for a unique, cross-cultural experience.

Day 9: Taichung

Visit Taiwan’s “Breadbasket”, where you can go oyster picking, bird watching, and exploring the water-life of the area. Try some incredible seafood and maybe even go out after returning to you accommodations near — Oh look, it’s near another night market!

Days 10-11: Taipei

Visit the Rainbow Village before heading back to the city you started in. You’ll get to see the massive collection of traditional art and artifacts contained within the National Palace Museum before taking the evening for yourself. After breakfast in the morning,  Your tour will end.