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Traditional & Culture

This Valentine’s Day, Japanese Women Are Treating Themselves Like Never Before

Forget tradition, for Valentine’s Day 2024 in Japan, women are increasingly bucking expectations and ignoring the intricate social dance required of them, and choosing instead to indulge in a little chocolate treat for themselves.

The Evolution of Valentine’s Day in Japan

The somewhat convoluted Valentine’s Day traditions found in Japan have their roots in the mid-20th century, when local chocolate manufacturers brought the holiday to Japan to sell more chocolate. (Ah, the beauty of commercialism, bringing the world so many holidays over the years.) And because of the somewhat artificially manufactured nature of these customs, they tend to be a little different from other parts of the world. In Japan, Valentine’s Day is a day when women give men chocolate – sometimes homemade chocolate concoctions, but often extremely expensive boxed chocolates sold in enormous quantities around the country. Over the years the tradition has evolved, with women not only giving their boyfriend or husband chocolates, but also any man they see on a daily basis, be they classmate or coworker. This means that women are expected to make or buy truly enormous amounts of chocolate every year, to successfully deliver their “honmei choco” (real Valentine chocolate), “giri choco” (obligation chocolate), and even “tomo choco” (friend chocolate) while they’re at it. The traditional response to receiving Valentine’s chocolate in Japan, is for men to return the sentiment with a gift of equal or greater value on White Day, a month later on March 14th. Whether men actually do this is debatable. And if you’re in a relationship that’s not a man and a woman, or not a part of the gender binary… well, Japan’s traditions just aren’t made for you, it would seem. Oh well.

Changing Japanese Valentine’s Trends

While cute shoujo manga scenes might make these traditions look oh-so-sweet and blush-inducingly romantic, the reality is that Japanese Valentine’s Day customs can be a real burden on Japanese women, taking the fun out of a silly holiday and making it a serious financial liability instead. And in response to this uncomfortable situation, both personal choices and social expectations are just beginning to change with the times. These days it’s not uncommon for Japanese corporations to send out a company-wide e-mail every February, reminding their employees that the en-masse distribution of “giri choco” is generally frowned upon. Likewise, schools will often forbid the tradition during school hours, or at least try their best to dissuade it.

But now, according to a recent Valentine’s related survey, women are starting to change who they buy chocolate for in the first place. Increasingly, the women of Japan are forgetting their classmates and coworkers, and buying chocolate for themselves instead. The seasonal survey asked over 1,000 women (between the ages of 14 and 79) who they were buying chocolate for in 2024, and compared the results to previous years’ surveys to show exactly which direction Japan’s Valentine’s trends are heading. And the results might be a little surprising, considering the percentage of women planning to buy “honmei choco” had already been low in 2023 and dropped even lower in 2024, from 7.6% to 6.4%. It looks like women just aren’t using Valentine’s chocolate as a method of confessing and revealing their true feelings anymore. The most popular purchase, on the other hand, was chocolate for the family – with as many as 44.7% of women planning to buy chocolate to eat with their families. And the biggest jump of all, the trend that gave this article its title, is the sharp increase in women who will be buying themselves chocolate in 2024, thank you very much. Getting a bump from 13.2% of women in 2023 to 21.7% in 2024, buying Valentine’s chocolate for yourself is a trend on the rise, and it seems like more and more women are choosing not to spend their hard-earned cash on chocolate for unappreciative acquaintances, and treat themselves instead.

Next time you’re in Japan for February 14th, don’t go expecting chocolate from every woman you meet, because she might just be saving that chocolate as her own sweet treat.

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