Foreigners first brought chocolate to Japan when the country was still mostly closed off to the rest of the world, and it has traced a unique path since then. Chocolate’s role in Valentine’s Day, the day on which people confess their love to each other, has been important. In recent years, in addition to the custom of women giving chocolates to men they fancy, more people, especially women, seem to enjoy choosing or making their own chocolates and giving them to friends, including other women, and family members. As for the products themselves, the focus now is less on fancy-looking packaging and more on traceable bean-to-bar chocolates or healthy options rich in cocoa polyphenols. Valentine’s Day is now synonymous with chocolate, and it’s a great time to check out the wide range of chocolates from all over Japan and around the world.
History of chocolate in Japan
A courtesan working on Dejima Island in Nagasaki, Japan’s only contact point with the outside world, receives six pieces of chocolate from a Dutch man; this is the first mention of chocolate in Japanese history.
At a time when chocolate is still a luxury item that regular people can’t afford, Morinaga & Co. begins selling the first domestically produced milk chocolate.
Targeting foreign residents of Japan, Kobe-based chocolatier Morozoff runs the following ad in an English language newspaper: “For your Valentine, Make A Present of Morozoff’s Fancy Box Chocolates.”
Chocolate specialist Chocolate Shop opens in Hakata Ward in Fukuoka.
Hankyu Department Store in Osaka is the first in Japan to make an annual event out of selling Valentine chocolates.
The chocolate division of Tagawa City-based Matsuo Seika begins making and selling Tirol-Choco.
Valentine’s Day gains popularity among young girls as the day to confess your love to the boy you like.
Women working in offices start buying chocolates for their male coworkers, leading to the birth of giri choco (obligation chocolate).
The chocolate market expands with the addition of high cacao chocolate and chocolate supplemented with lactobacillus.
Valentine’s Day Gifting – It’s not like back home!
On average Japanese enjoy 1.2 kg of chocolate per year. That’s quite a chunk, but not enough to rank within the top-twenty consuming nations. Come Valentine’s Day, however, chocolates are everywhere! Interestingly it’s the women who gift them to the men, and matters get even more complicated, here’s a primer for Valentine’s Day newbies in Japan.
“True feeling chocolate.” As the name implies, this is chocolate given to express your true feelings to someone.
“Opposite chocolate.” Chocolate that men give to women on Valentine’s Day, instead of the other way around, which is the custom in Japan. Usually an indicator of one’s true feelings.
“Obligation chocolate.” Chocolate that women give to men with no romantic undertones. Usually given in hopes of reciprocation on White Day (March 14).
“Friend chocolate.” Chocolates that friends, usually female, give each other.
My choco / Gohobi choco
Chocolate that you buy to treat yourself. If you are a chocoholic, there is no better time than Valentine’s Day to sample the plethora of delicious products.
Chocolate you give to your family members.
Looking for chocolates to give on Valentine’s Day? Drop by Hakata Hankyu’s St. Valentine’s Day Chocolate Expo!
• 2/1 (Fri.) ~ 2/14 (Thu.)
• 8F event hall: 10:00~20:00 (last day: ~18:00), 1F media stage: 10:00~20:00 (Sun. ~ Thu.), until 21:00 (Fri. & Sat.)
• Hakata Hankyu
• 1-1 Hakataeki-chuogai, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn242, Feb. 2019)