In Western culture, it often seems that on Valentine's Day men are obligated to treat their special romantic someone with sweets, chocolate, romantic clothing, etc. In Japan it's quite the opposite!
Women are expected to buy chocolate, and not only for their romantic interest, but for all of their male colleagues as well!
How exactly did this come about? Well it started when the Japanese confectionery and cake company Morozoff Ltd first introduced Japan to the notion of gifting chocolate on Valentine's Day in 1936, and it's successful promotion of heart-shaped chocolates inspired the company’s competitors to follow suit.
An integral part of Japanese culture is the responsibility to thank those who have done you a favor, which inspired the notion of "giri-choco" (literally translated as "obligation chocolate"), the giving of chocolates without romantic connotations. Somehow this led to the expectation that women give all the men in their lives "giri" chocolate, including family members, co-workers, friends and bosses to show their respect and appreciation.
For the male acquaintances that the woman is not terribly fond of, there is a lower level of less expensive chocolates called "cho-giri-choko" (totally-obligatory chocolate).
On the other hand, male acquaintances that the woman has romantic feelings for and wishes to impress may receive a higher level of chocolate called "honmei-choco" (true feeling chocolate) which are more expensive or prepared by hand.
These days many young women in Japan have even started to exchange chocolate with their female friends on Valentine’s Day, they call this "tomo-choco" (friend chocolate).
So what about the men you may wonder?
Well, a month later on "White Day" (March 14), men are expected to reciprocate with gifts at least two or three times more valuable than what they received. Failing to do so can be seen as quite rude. We may cover this in more detail next month :)