Feb 12, 2019

“Giri-choco”: Japan’s lame Valentine’s Day tradition

Valentine’s is a day for romance—for young love to blossom and long-time couples to rekindle the flames of passion in their relationships...right?

In Japan, not exactly. Kind of like KFC manufactured the “fried chicken for Christmas dinner” tradition, during the consumer boom in the sixties through eighties, Japanese chocolate companies sought new ways to spark demand by exploiting western holidays. Valentine’s Day happened to be the perfect target. Instead of being a day of romance, chocolate companies naturally focused on manufacturing a day solely dedicated to the act of giving chocolate as gifts, and ironically, the onus fell on women—not men—to be the conveyors of confectionary.

At first, the tradition was fairly harmless: women would get chocolate for the men in their life—brothers, fathers, coworkers, etc. But soon, the year-after-year gesture of kindness mutated into this obligatory act where people came to expect the chocolate, especially in the workplace. Suddenly, if women failed to produce chocolate on Valentine’s day, it was cause for concern. Was Keiko mad at the boss? Why would Sayuri choose to be different from all the other OLs (office ladies)?

After time, the concept of “Giri-choco” emerged: giri, for obligation, as in “obligatory chocolate.” For years OLs begrudgingly spent hard-earned cash on chocolate gifts for their coworkers, but instead of avoiding a potential negative connotation for Valentine’s Day in Japan, chocolate companies actually embraced it. A few years back, the popular Pocky brand started rebranding special valentine’s edition pocky as “giricky,” and as my local supermarket shows, it can be a marketing tool:

“Giri-choco”: Japan’s lame Valentine’s Day tradition photo

The sign says, “From ‘heartfelt’ chocolate to ‘Obligatory chocolate’, we have it all!”

Here’s the type of chocolate gifts they had inside meant for the “heartfelt” family gifts:

“Giri-choco”: Japan’s lame Valentine’s Day tradition photo

If you feel obligated to pick up some “giri-choco” for your coworkers, you can find smaller packages at cheaper prices at your local supermarkets, department stores, or convenience stores.  Here’s the selection at our local 7-11:

“Giri-choco”: Japan’s lame Valentine’s Day tradition photo

For giri-choco, the trick is to get equal sizes and amounts for everyone, so as not to show favor. For those who work in big offices, it’s always good to shoot for the 300-600 yen packages.

What do you think of the “giri-choco” tradition? Are you going to get giri-choco for your coworkers? Feel free to use the comments section below!



Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.

Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).


  • helloalissa

    on Feb 12

    Uh, it is a lame tradition. I went super cheap my first year in Japan, buying a pack of individually wrapped Hello Kitty chocolates and giving one to each guy in the office. No one else really gave them, so I didn't even need to. Now I skip the tradition all together and no one complains. Don't married women get to opt out? I'm grateful I don't work in a place where each man expects me to spend 300 plus yen on him for chocolate. Had no idea that was the standard.

  • ReishiiTravels

    on Feb 15

    I plan on trying to skip this tradition when I start working full time. I hope it is okay! XD