Japanese women challenge Valentine's Day tradition of giving chocolate to male coworkers

Vendors recommend chocolates to customers at a chocolate counters at the Printemps department store in Tokyo on Feb. 9, 2016, before Valentine's Day on Feb. 14. Elbowing each other in the stampede to buy Valentine's Day chocolate for the men in their lives, Japanese women brought stores to a standstill.
TORU YAMANAKA | AFP | Getty Images

In the U.S., we're encouraged on Valentine's Day to treat the ones we love to a romantic dinner, a box of heart-shaped candies or a sweet hand-written card.

But in Japan, the celebration takes on a different tone. Instead of lovers spoiling each other, Japanese tradition calls for women to give chocolates to male colleagues on Feb. 14. Men, then, reciprocate the gift-giving a month later on White Day, "an event dreamed up by chocolate makers in the early 80s to boost sales," according to The Guardian

But both celebrations have come under fire lately as women push back on what they see as forced giving. Boyfriends and husbands receive honmei choco ("true feelings chocolate") while other men, such as coworkers, receive giri choco (literally, "obligation chocolate").

Sales staff discuss specialty chocolates with shoppers at a chocolate store on Feb. 12, 2015 in Tokyo, Japan. On Valentine's Day, Japanese women are expected to give chocolates to men. The chocolate giving tradition in Japan has created a booming business with the month leading up to Feb. 14 sometimes accounting for approximately 50 percent of a confectionery companies annual sales.
Chris McGrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Valentine's Day comes first, so women set the bar for who receives a treat as well as the caliber of the treat. Such pressure has led women to spend thousands of yen on giri choco for colleagues to avoid causing offense in past years, but now more and more companies are banning this form of gift giving altogether. Forty percent of workers see it as a form of abuse and harassment, according to Japan Today.

In interviews conducted by newsite ANN, Japanese workers favored such bans and said they felt it eased pressures on women and had a positive effect on coworker relationships.

Still, 35 percent of women plan on handing out chocolate treats to male coworkers this year, according to a poll by a Tokyo department store.

More women, though, about 60 percent, plan to indulge in some self-love this Valentine's Day by purchasing chocolates for themselves. Only 36 percent plan to use sweet treats as a love token for partners or crushes.

These company bans on giri choco also seem to be reshaping the country's notions of who gives gifts on Feb. 14. News outlet SoraNews24 recently reported on a growing trend — gyaku choco, or "reverse chocolate" — that has men giving sweets to women. The publication notes that it's still far from the norm.

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Americans spend nearly $20 billion on Valentine's Day—here's what might be expected of you
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