A Unique Japanese Custom: 4 Meanings of Chocolate on Valentine’s Day!

Yumi Murata

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What is the most popular gift on Valentine’s Day in your countries?

I suppose it might be a single rose or a bunch of flowers, right?
It is the day for confessing your love.

What is the most popular gift in Japan?

It is “chocolate” !! Tons of chocolate!!

In the weeks before Valentine’s Day, a variety of chocolate: expensive, cheap, gorgeous, funny and unique chocolates are displayed in show cases in every department store, supermarket and convenience store all over Japan!!

You can see many kinds of chocolate lined up neatly in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day.

Why do many Japanese people buy chocolate on this day?

It is said that one of the chocolate companies in Japan started to promote the idea of giving boxes of chocolate as Valentine’s gifts.

Since then, this unique custom has been kept.

There are 4 meanings of chocolate given to other people

1. Giri choco (義理チョコ・ギリチョコ)

Giri (義理・ぎり) in Japanese means an obligation, so “Giri choco” is literally “obligation chocolate”.

Women give an inexpensive type of chocolate to male co-workers at the office on this day.

Although male co-workers are not possible objects of romantic interest, it has become a regular event.

Men generally reciprocate by giving women gifts such as cookies, handkerchiefs and other items on White Day, March 14.

Women expect nice gifts in return from male co-workers.

An example giri choco

Credit: mdid via Flickr

2. Tomo choco (友チョコ・トモチョコ)

Tomo (友・とも) in Japanese means a friend, so “Tomo choco” is literally “friendship chocolate”.

Chocolate is handed out not only at offices but also at schools.

Children from elementary school to high school give homemade chocolate cookies to friends, other classmates, club mates and teachers.

An example tomo choco

Credit: gamene via Flickr

This has become a big event for mothers if their children are elementary school students.

Even if their children are boys, it doesn’t matter. The boys’ mothers help or make homemade chocolate cookies for their children.

So most Japanese students and their mothers are very busy preparing chocolate cookies before Valentine’s Day.

I’ve heard that the students who go to famous prestigious high schools use GODIVA chocolate to make homemade cookies for friends and classmates.


3. Gohoubi choco (ご褒美チョコ・ゴホウビチョコ)

Gohoubi (ご褒美・ゴホウビ) in Japanese means a reward, so “Gohoubi choco” is literally “reward chocolate” for good behavior.

Nowadays many female office workers buy premium chocolate for themselves on Valentine’s Day.

An example gohoubi choco
An example gohoubi choco

Credit: ClesrHrost via Flickr

4. Wait a minute…

If you are a male and you receive a box of chocolates from a Japanese girl, look around and check whether she hands it out to others or not.

If she gives it only to you, then that means it is “Honmei choco”.

Honmei (本命・ほんめい) in Japanese means special favorite, so she is indicating that “you are her favorite guy”.

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