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A SWEET VALENTINE: JAPANESE DESIGNER CHOCOLATES

Posted by NiMi Projects on

Valentine's Day post at NiMi ProjectsImage 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.

 

Colorful round Shizuka chocolates produced by Koji Mitate of the restaurant Arashiyama MITATE in Kyoto. Image courtesy of Arashiyama Mitate via PR TimesShizuku: 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, produced by Japanese textile maker Sou Sou, features one of the brand's signature pattern of numbers. Inside each box is a selection of cookies, made by Kyoto confectioner Itoken. Image courtesy of Sou Sou via PR TimesHouse 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.

 

A bar of I Raw chocolate launched by Sweetest Day, a new brand of vegan choc chocolate made in Japan. Image courtesy of Clock Up Inc. via PR TimesWatashi 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.

 

A selection of square chocolates filed with soft jelly, made by Belamer in Kyoto, Japan. Image courtesy of Belamar via PR TimesMizuho 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.

 

A Moko chocolate cake, of chocolate cream, soft and fluffy vanilla bavarois and a crispy chocolate sablé made by Amami Kaori Laboratory in Grandsta, Tokyo. Image courtesy of Amami Kaori via PR TimesMoko-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.