Valentine’s (and White) Day in Japan。。。ハピーバレンタインデイ

“It took us a long time to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” Kurt Vonnegut. Heart-shaped “Ema” – wooden plaques on which you write your wishes/prayers. Kasuga Taisha Shrine (Nara, 2008) ema are almost exclusively for wishes of love, for the Special Someone, or to find that Special Someone. . . 

ハピー バレンタインデイ

Happy Valentine’s Day


Enduring love stories in a coming of age memoir of Japan:  Dancing Over Kyoto.

Dancing Over Kyoto

Dancing Over Kyoto

. This need not, and will not, be an overly involved post.  I’ll let links (and here’s a good one from TIME Magazine) provide most of the substantive information you may be looking for or curious about.  Suffice to say that in Japan Valentine’s Day thrives, but is celebrated somewhat differently than it is in North America.  For one, it’s the women who give the men chocolate.  To make things a little more complex, there’s “Giri-Choko” (or “Obligation Chocolate”) that’s given to to guys that it needs to be given to, male friends, co-workers, bosses, and the like) and “Honmei-Choko” (or “True Chocolate”) that’s given to a girl’s true love.  Lest this seem wholly unfair to the Women of Japan, please note that one month later, on March 14, Japan celebrates the entirely confectionery industry-created holiday “White Day(scroll down just a little)”, where men are expected to return the previous month’s favors from the women in their lives; by some accounts, on White Day men are obligated treble whatever was spent on them back on Valentine’s Day. That said, I offer below a couple of my favorite Japanese tear-jerkers.  By most Western pop or rock standards they’re overly saccharine or schmaltzy.  I don’t care – the tunes are beautiful and the words (even if you can’t understand them) can get.  you.  right.  there.  if you’ll let them.  And recall what Duke Ellington said:  “If it sounds good, it is good.” These tunes are very well known in Japan.  I first heard  最後のいい訳 in a little Dai-Kichi Yakitori restaurant on Shirakawa Street in Kyoto, back in the autumn of 2005.  I picked up the CD the next night.  A couple of years later I heard 涙そうそう while watching an in-flight movie by the same name (Nada Sou Sou) on the way to Japan as it had been incorporated into the soundtrack.  Actually, the movie was sort of built around the song.  Anyway, Miharu’s excellent Japan blog goes all into it.  The film’s about a platonic love, the song sounds much more like romantic love.  The film was a very nice one and certainly tore me up at the end (see and click on the link below to catch the end of the movie). Before that, though, I do have a couple of completed stories which fit nicely into the Love Story in Japan genre, “Etsuko” and “A Night in Kyoto“.  You’re welcome to read them. Anyway, here are three (3) very nice Japanese Valentine’s Day songs. 最後のいい訳 – “The Last Excuse” —  Hideaki Tokunaga . 涙そうそう – “The Tears Flow (profusely)” —  Rimi Natsukawa . Note:  I saw this movie on plane, high over the Pacific Ocean, flying towards Japan a few years ago.  This song came on as the credits rolled.  I looked up and around and saw that several of my fellow passengers were joining me in tearing-up.  Additional note: the protagonists are step-siblings, not blood-related.  That’s important to know if one sees the very end (after the credits roll). And here’s an excerpt from a review of Nada Sou Sou:

“What is truly unique about this movie within its genre, is its willingness to deal with real life issues; people will cheat you for their own purposes, a romantic relationship between two people from differing social statuses will not work out due to societal pressures, problems can cause strains in even the closest of bonds, and even the person closest to you will have to leave you eventually; in short, life is hard. It is because of this ability to use real life issues to move the plot along, without the apparent need to introduce plot devices out of nowhere, which particularly makes this movie shine. . . .”

What with a couple of heart-breakers preceding, I’ll wind up with a more upbeat, it’s-tough-but-gonna-work-out, J-Pop song,  “Life is Like a Boat”  sung half in Japanese and half in English by Rie Fu ( living several of her early years in Maryland ) – .

Ema at Kasuga Taisha (Shinto Shrine).

Finally, I invite you to check this wonderful work:Godzilla in Love.”  Credit to the artist, “failur3“. .

    • Carol
    • January 31st, 2010

    That is really interesting about Valentines/White Day — also about the obligation chocolates et al. I had no idea. I always learn something new here.

      • letsjapan
      • January 31st, 2010

      Obligation Chocolates should be the name of a band. Note that I wrote my story, “Obligation” some time back. And you really, really want to make sure you pronounce “giri choco” correctly.

      Thanks for stopping by, too.

        • Steve Butler
        • February 6th, 2010

        So what does one get by mispronouncing “giri-choko”? (You know I love those linguistic pitfalls!)

        Giri and honmei choko sound basically like the old school days when one bought the big package of cheap “school” Valentines to give to everyone in the class/group, but a Special Card for the Special Valentine.

        Just guessing, but I’d expect the Japanese to have developed an arcane and complex code of “proper” choko-giving, as they tend to do with almost everything.

        – 葛船長
        (This is supposed to translate to “Captain Kudzu.” Let me know if I’ve botched it!)

        • letsjapan
        • February 6th, 2010


        Yes, you’re right about both things: that there are various considerations as to who (amongst co-workers, for example) get “giri-choco” and how much is spent on each. As I’m not a Japanese woman working in an office in downtown Osaka, I can’t claim to know all of the intricacies of the thing. I expect it’s kind of a pain, and perhaps, in some cases, financial burden. As for “honmei-choco”, if there’s a steady boyfriend involved, then that settles that. Otherwise, it’s Japanese women’s opportunity (although I’m not sure how many exercise it … I’ll have to ask around) to have their own sanctioned Sadie Hawkins day.

        As for your Japanese moniker, well, 船長 (senchou), is a ship’s captain. I had to look up the other kanji and got “arrowroot”. Arrowroot? Spelling it out in katakana (キャテンクツ) makes a little more sense, but using it with any but the most fluent-in-American-English Japanese friends would likely as not entail many long explanations. Remember the Rule: don’t use idioms. You’ll spent more time explaining the idiom than it’s worth and both speaker and hearer will likely forget what the issue at hand was.

        • letsjapan
        • February 6th, 2010

        Steve — Read the story: “Obligation.” It’s quite short. Look for the tab (to click on) at the very top of this page.

      • letsjapan
      • January 31st, 2010

      P.S. – That’s original emphasis in the review excerpt for “Nada Sou Sou”, by the way.

  1. Hello!
    I finally checked the e-mail box you sent to. I hardly ever go there anymore. Very sorry for the lengthy delay.

    I’m very happy to have found your site & have bookmarked it so that I can return often!

    Very Informative post on Red & White days.
    Thank you!

      • letsjapan
      • February 2nd, 2010


      So good to hear from you. Please check back often, navigate around, etc.

      All the best –


  2. Red and white? I think this both very good fitting colors has a meaning for my country, too:) Between, 2010 is the year that ‘we’ started saying all together ‘Lets Japan’. Just because the Japan year in Turkey, 2010:)

      • letsjapan
      • February 6th, 2010

      You know, I never really considered that coincidence — red & white for both Valentine’s/White Day, 日の丸、other uses of red and white in Japan (tents at festivals and other ceremonies, Gokekkonoiwai & Nyuugakuiwai envelopes [封筒], etc.).

      That should have been obvious to me!

      Thank you.

      • letsjapan
      • February 6th, 2010

      Dear “CrossRoads”,

      I just realized that you were speaking of your country, Turkey. Which also has a beautiful and dramatic Red & White flag, except with colors reversed from Japan’s. A very good point. Thank you.


    • uhrm.
      i thought that is what is was called in Japan?
      my daughter-in-law is japanese & she calls feb.14 red day. ( & then says valentine’s day)
      and march 14 is white day.

      i thought it brilliant of the japanese to have a day for each gender to say “i love you”
      it puts some pressure on females to reciprocate & not be so greedy. (& also gives opportunity to tell someone you feel more for them than they think!)

        • letsjapan
        • February 6th, 2010


        I’ve not yet heard it called “Red Day”, although I wouldn’t be surprised if that caught on as some sort of short-hand, colloquial thing. Red Day doesn’t really make since, but neither does “Walk Man” or, for that matter, “White Day” (although White Day makes since in contrast to Valentine’s red, or chocolate’s black).

        See, e.g., this:

        It’s spelled out in katakana バレンタイン or バレンタイン デイ (the syllabary used for foreign or foreign-originating words, to phonetically spell them out … and used for italics and onomatopoeia). And White Day is ホワイトデイ (not 白日 “shirohi” or “shirobi” . . . although I’m sure someone says or some store advertises it that way).


  3. “Godzilla in Love” is charming.

      • letsjapan
      • February 9th, 2010

      The little “bouquet” is just great, don’t you think?


  4. Just tweeted this great post (via @Wendy_Tokunaga), which I found via Linked In and also just subscribed to this blog. Appreciate the Jpop videos—yes, if it sounds good, it IS good and we need to spread the word on how good Jpop can be. 🙂

    Allow me to introduce you to my Jpop/enka song, which just debuted on YouTube and let me know what you think: “The Wishing Star (Nozomi no Hoshi).” Watch here:

    Yoroshiku onegai shimasu…

      • letsjapan
      • February 14th, 2010


      Subarashii Comment に本当にありがとう!

      I’m going to listen to “The Wishing Star” within minutes. Thank you for that, too. I have a story (epic in its way, sort of like “Etsuko” – clickable atop this and all pages here) I’m working on that enka figures into. For our friends who’ve never visited, let alone lived in, Japan, the wonders and weirdnesses of enka, well, they don’t know. About the closest thing is the Flight of the Conchords’ send-up of Korean karaoke (“カラオケ” of course being a Japanese word and thing), here:

      Thanks again, Wendy!


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