Image by [Pixabay] via Pexels
In Japan, celebrating Valentine’s Day is a relatively new concept — one that only dates back to the late 1930s, when the popular Kobe chocolatier Mozoroff Ltd. launched its first Valentine’s campaign. By the 1950s, major department stores had followed suit and a curious custom began to evolve.
On February 14, Japanese women — yes only the women — would gift chocolates to not just the loves of their lives, but to any man of significance within their orbit. These “courtesy gifts” would be handed out to family, friends, work colleagues and even bosses. How this imbalance came about is unclear, but story has it that an old advertising campaign featuring a young woman giving a man Valentine’s sweets may have been misconstrued to grow into the oddly unfair tradition.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that the National Confectionery Industry Association finally decided to try and even out the chocolate playing field. In 1978, it established White Day, a March 14th celebration for women to finally receive a little return on their Valentine’s investment. We’d like to think this was in the spirit of the second wave of feminism in Japan, but it was most likely a marketing campaign to sell even more confectionery. Whatever the reason, on March 14, the men who received chocolates on Valentine’s Day were expected to bring gifts of white sweets or cookies to the women — and rightly so, we say!
Since then, Japan has, thankfully, progressed. For younger generations, Valentine’s Day is for everyone and the nation now produces some of the most stylish and cutest chocolates we’ve ever seen. For those still following the old rules, there’s always plenty of small gift sets as well as limited editions that remind us how food design can make all the difference to a treat.
Here are our favourite "only-in-Japan" chocolate designs released for Valentine's Day 2024.
Shizuku: Image courtesy of Arashiyama Mitate
The Daimaru Kyoto shopping centre’s Festival of Valentine Sweets features a vast selection of Japanese and international chocolate creations, including Shizuku, designed by Koji Mitate of the restaurant Arashiyama Mitate. Inspired by the rich bounty of the earth, each Shizuku droplet is infused with natural flavors that run the gamut from fresh forest fruits to Japanese teas and exotic cocktails. We love their simplicity in shape paired with a rainbow of colours that echo nature’s own vibrant palette.
House of Sweets: Image courtesy of Sou Sou
Japanese textile brand Sou Sou’s 2024 Valentine’s release is House of Sweets, a playful house-shaped box filled with Cacao Boro — chocolatey cookies made by Itoken, a traditional Japanese confectioner with a history that dates back to the Edo Period. The biscuits are shaped as numbers to match the pattern of the box — a popular contemporary design of Sou Sou fabrics — while the name Boro is a reference to tamago boro, Japan’s old-school egg cookies, a simple and retro treat.
Watashi Raw Chocolate: Image courtesy of Qlock Up
Inspired to find a solution to his own allergy to regular chocolate, Koichi Nakamura of Qlock Up developed Watashi Raw Chocolate, a vegan-friendly chocolate made in Aomori from organic cocoa and plant-based sweeteners. Boasting vitamins, minerals that are usually reduced or destroyed by chocolate-heating process, Watashi Raw is also a healthier choice than those containing dairy and other fats. We think Nakamura’s geometric-patterned, tile-shaped bars and minimalist envelope packaging bring a sophistication to raw chocolate that reminds us that vegan does not necessarily compromise on quality.
Mizuho no Shizuku: Image courtesy of Bel Amer Kyoto
Some love rich, creamy flavored chocolate. We actually prefer a dash of fruity tartness to cut through the intensity. Chocolatier Bel Amer Kyoto’s Mizuho no Shizuku do just that in one of the prettiest ways we’ve ever seen. Mizuho no Shizuku are Bel Amer’s signature confectionery — chocolate masu- (traditional wooden sake box) shaped shells filled with ingredients from Japan suspended in soft transparent jelly. They are like edible miniature framed artworks. This year’s February releases include petals, cheese and praline shapes covered in Japanese wine and rosé jellies; three types of regional strawberry-flavored jellies encasing patterned shapes of white chocolate and ganache; and so much more. These are chocolates that involve a complex and refined chemistry of flavours that match their stunning appearance.
Moko-moku: Image courtesy of Amami Kaori
The Moko-moko is actually a cake, but we couldn’t resist adding it to our list of delights, because … well just look at its fabulous shape! Included in Japan Rail East's Valentine's fairs at its Ecute and Grandsta station malls, Moko-moko is a rich chocolate cake designed by Amami Kaori Laboratory, a self-named food “research institute” that experiments with combinations of flavours, textures, form and colour. Moko-moko, Amami Kaori Laboratory explains, has “a melt-in-your-mouth texture like a cloud." Within its fluffy appearance are three layers — smooth, rich chocolate cream; soft and light vanilla bavarois; and a crispy chocolate sablé. There’s a delightful blend of playfulness with minimalism — something that we’ve always loved about Japanese design sensibilities.
NB. The confectioneries in this post are currently only available in Japan.