Depending on where you live, maybe couldn’t care less about Valentine’s Day. In some European countries, it’s just a day the flower shops are decorated with hearts trying to persuade you to buy flowers.
Not so in Japan where, if you are romantically inclined, it’s one of the most important days of the year, on par with even Christmas. Chocolate as a food associated with passion and romance is rooted in Mesoamerican history. But Richard Cadbury is largely credited with the commercialization and gift-giving aspect of Valentine’s.
Valentine’s Day in Japan is an entirely different beast though. For starters, it’s women who give chocolate to men and the men (typically) reciprocate a month later on White Day. This tradition was originally started in the 1950s when chocolate manufacturer Mary’s started selling heart-shaped chocolates at Isetan Department Store and suggesting that women give to men.
Today, the idea has taken on extraordinary dimensions – every supermarket, every convenience store has a space dedicated to Valentine’s chocolate. DIY-inclined teenage girls all over the country spend the nights before Valentine’s Day in their family kitchen trying to produce cute chocolate sweets – not only to boy-friends or prospective boy-friends (honmei-choco), but also for their female class-mates (tomo-choco, or friend-chocolate).
For women working in a company, male colleagues expect to receive giri-choco: chocolate given away because you feel you have to. With close to half of the working population involved, you can imagine how big this day is for the chocolate industry. A 2016 article suggests that the economic impact of Japanese Valentine’s Day is at one hundred billion Yen (about 880 million USD). And each year new industries seem to want to get a share of the Valentine’s craze. So we put together a few that are being marketed this 2017 season.
Haato no nama-choko-man
The convenience store Seven Eleven is selling their Valentine version of the popular snack niku-man, or pork buns. Only of course the niku-man are not round, but heart-shaped – and are not filled with pork, but – you guessed it – chocolate.
Traditional Japanese sweets – “wagashi” – are also joining in. Toraya, a wagashi shop which was founded in the 16th century in, is not known for chocolate but for yōkan. Yōkan is made of adzuki beans and agar-agar, a block-like sweet using chestnuts (kuri-yōkan) or sweet potato (imo-yōkan). In the Edo period yōkan was one of the luxury items that only few could afford in the big cities. For Valentine’s Day 2017, Toraya has two special yōkan on sale.
Instant Chocolate Noodles
One of the least likely players in the Valentine’s chocolate industry are instant noodles. But last month Maruka-Shokuhin, the company behind the ever popular “Peyoung” started selling “Peyoung Chocolate Yakisoba Giri.” After a food scandal in 2014, the company now is in the news for exploring new tastes (The cilantro version was actually rather tasty).
Although not officially marketed as a Valentine’s Day treat, it can’t be a coincidence that the experimental KitKat Chocolatory is opening their first street-level retail space in early February. And to commemorate, they’re going to be giving away what’s being called the world’s first KitKat Sushi.
But don’t worry – there’s no raw fish involved. Using ingredients like raspberry for maguro (tuna), melon mascarpone cheese for uni (sea urhcin) and pumpkin for tamago (egg), the company has created 3 series of replica sushi treats that replaces the rice with a rice crispy treat-like base.
They’re available from 2/2 – 2/5/2017 but only for the first 500 visitors who spend more than 3000 yen at the new Ginza shop (Gmap).
For the more adventurous, the ever-playful Village Vangaurd is selling chocolate curry (540 yen) that simply pours over rice, creating an instantaneous romantic dinner and chocolate desert in a single package.
In Japan, the Valentine’s market isn’t limited to confectionery makers. It even extends to agriculture. In this case, a strawberry farmer in Yamaguchi prefecture is selling heart-shaped strawberries. The farm spent 4 years perfecting their ichigokoro (strawberry heart) and are selling them for steep prices: 1,270 yen (about $11) for a single medium-sized heart strawberry and 5000 yen (about $44) for a single extra-large strawberry.
Chocolate Choo Choo Train
And of course it’s not only the food industry who wants their share of the cake, or rather the chocolate bar – for trainspotters the Izu-Hakone-Railway is running a chocolate-colored locomotive on February 12th 2017 between the stations of Mishima and Shūzenji.
Adorned with a cute heart, the train will leave Daiba, Shizuoka at 9:47am to arrive at Shūzenji at 10:45 where it stops for about half an hour for fans to take photos and will then arrive back at Daiba at 13:05.