When the heart turns White and Black


The smell of chocolates and flowers fills the air all over the United States on Feb. 14. The same is true in Japan and South Korea, but their Valentine’s Day traditions are a little different.

Women in Japan and South Korea traditionally give chocolates and other treats to male friends and coworkers, as well as to boyfriends, husbands and men they are interested in. In Japanese, chocolates for male friends are called giri-choco, or “obligation chocolate.” Chocolates given to romantic interests, on the other hand, are called honmei-choco, or “true feeling chocolate,” and are usually more elaborate.

“If it is a guy I like, I would make him a cake,” said Japanese student Yukako Ishigaki. “[For] others I would just give a lot of cheap chocolates.”

Where does this tradition come from? Some say it originated as a marketing scheme by companies that were trying to promote chocolate sales. “When I was a kid, my parents told me that on Valentine’s Day girls give boys chocolates,” said Intensive English Learning Program student Takamasa Hasegawa.

On March 14, one month after Valentine’s Day, people in Japan and South Korea celebrate White Day, when men return the favor by giving chocolates back to women they are interested in.

Alternatively, Black Day, April 14, is specifically for single people who didn’t receive gifts on either Valentine’s Day or White Day. People traditionally eat black bean noodles known as jajangmyeon. Korean IELP student Boran Chot explained,“If you used a color to refer to people not dating anyone, you would use black. That is the reason that you eat black bean noodles.”

In the past, Chot celebrated Valentine’s Day and White Day every year, but because she is studying abroad, she said this year might be different. “I [will] probably eat jajangmyeon alone on Black Day.”