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Valentine’s Day in Japan: a totally different experience

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Valentine’s Day Chocolate in Kyoto, Japan – Honmei Choco, I think!

Japan is wonderful for so many reasons. I feel totally out of my water here and at once, also, at home.

It takes a few days to adjust, as it does to anywhere. I am taking my shoes off in the wrong places, and very clumsily, much to the amusement of the locals. Sitting for the tea ceremony results in a speedy dead leg and limping out, and drinking the tea with all of the particular traditions (and with the fear of offending everyone) will hopefully become easier soon.

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A chocolate teapot :)

Sometimes things appear inverted. Japanese people are so polite and softly spoken, I feel so bolshy by comparison. It takes care and attention to pick up on important details at times, so, I am quieter than normal (mostly!), listening, observing and learning, and taking a much in as possible.

Take Valentine’s Day, for example. On Valentine’s Day it is the woman’s responsibility to buy chocolates – and only chocolates – for the men in her life. There are two types of chocolates, giri choco and honmei choco, and in between is a potential nightmare, from what I can see.

Giri choco, obligation chocolates are given to the men that you work with etc. and honmei choco, true love chocolates, to the man that you would like affections returned from. The only difference between these is the price of the chocolate, and they aren’t divided into sections in the shops, they are all just chocolate. So you must be clear with your intentions by choosing a chocolate that is not too cheap but also not expensive enough to be considered a honmei choco.

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Solar system chocolates

Then you wait exactly a month until White Day, the day when men return a gift to the women / woman who gave them giri or honmei choco. The gift returned, if returned, will indicate his intentions.

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Very popular animal chocolates :)

I spoke to a lovely Kyoto lady about this, in detail. I wondered if it was as enormously stressful as it seemed? She told me that she had given her honmei choco to a man that she had an enormous crush on, but it wasn’t returned, and she was devestated. But, one of the men that she gave her giri choco to, interpreted it as an honmei choco (eeek!), but it all worked out brilliantly. He gave her a lovely gift in return on White Day (a ring but not an engagement ring or anything), they started dating, and then she married him.

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Adore this chocolate dinosaur dig, uncover a white chocolate dinosaur

The shops are full of wonderful chocolates for this tradition, I visited the Daimaru department store food court and also a wonderful green tea shop (Ujicha Gion Tsujiri), which even during the week had a very long queue for its café. They have a wonderful range of green teas and products incl fabulous chocolates and ice creams.

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My matcha honmei choco, gifted to myself :)

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…. and a matcha truffle :)

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I like food. I like to make food. Eat food. Photograph food. Write about food. Mainly in London but when I am lucky or organised further afield.

24 Comments

  1. So much imagination in the chocolate shapes! Feels like we’re all about the innards over here. Also, I would be paralyzed with fear about buying the wrong chocolates. Whew. I made 20 bath bombs for Elliot’s classmates and skipped the choc altogether!

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    • You are absolutely right. I think we would all be a bit too worried about the potential of a chocolate diplomatic error :-)

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  2. It’s the mens turn on White Day on the 14th March…..many men seem to get away with doing nothing though….much like Valentines in the UK! ;-)

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    • That is what I figured. Well, I certainly hope that whoever gets the solar system chocolates, gives something back! :)

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  3. What a minefield Valentine’s Day is in Japan!! Simply choose the wrong chocolates and boom.

    Niamh – love the insight here, thanks for sharing. So jealous of you on this trip. Time to stop daydreaming about a trip to Japan and put some serious thought into making it a reality.

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  4. Sounds like quite an adventure trying navigating the social cues! Those chocolate tools look seriously amazing, though I’d imagine they’d be the Giri choco – since they’re entirely unromantic :)

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  5. Can you imagine having to wait a month to find out whether he thinks you’re hot??? Nightmare! I guess the romantic in me quite likes the non-instant gratification aspect of Japanese Valentine’s day although my purse probably wouldn’t ^_^ Some amazing chocs on your pics though

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  6. wow, so interesting! love reading things like this. But how would the man know how much the chocolate was? what if it looks amazing but was quite cheap?

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  7. fascinating stuff! My golly that’s a chocolate/feelings nightmare, Jane Austin could have written a few novels based on this! Those chocs are so pretty though x

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  8. Honmei choco is sometimes homemade, too. After all, buying chocolate is one thing, but making your own sweets is more intensive. (Even if that’s just melting chocolate and pouring it into molds…ha.) Tomo-choco (friend choco) is also a thing now–sort of like palentines/galentines. The biggest indicator of giri vs honmei? Giri: you get everyone the same thing. Honmei: you get or make something special, thoughtful or unique.

    I could go for that chocolate wrench, though!

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