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Japan should stop giving out giri choko (obligatory chocolate). That was the message in a full-page ad Godiva published last week that instantly went viral, stirring up debate, once again, on the pros and cons of women giving out inexpensive courtesy chocolates to their male co-workers and friends on Valentine’s Day — a cultural quirk of Japan.

Published in the Nihon Keizai Shimbun on Thursday, the ad by the high-end Belgian chocolate company urges top business leaders to tell their female workers to refrain from giving out courtesy chocolates if they feel pressured to do so.

“Some women say they hate Valentine’s Day because it takes a lot of energy to think whom to give it to and make preparations,” Jerome Chouchan, president of Godiva Japan, said in the ad. “Valentine’s Day is the day people convey their true feelings, not the day people coordinate relationships at work.”

The Godiva ad immediately provoked a response. Yuraku Confectionery Co., maker of the popular and inexpensive Black Thunder chocolate bar, tweeted: “Every person is different, and that’s OK. Yuraku Confectionery will keep supporting the culture of giri choko as a chance to show appreciation.”

The custom of women giving chocolates to co-workers goes back decades in Japan.

“In the past, women expressing romantic feelings toward men was considered disgraceful in Japan. So chocolate companies are said to have started advertising Valentine’s Day as a special day that women could profess their love,” said Harumichi Yamada, a professor of social science and geography at Tokyo Keizai University.

But as the social status of women improved and confessing their love was no longer taboo, Valentine’s Day merely became the day women gave chocolate to men, Yamada said. It was during this process that the giri choko custom emerged.

The tradition still seems to be prevalent. According to a survey released last week by lifesyle webiste Mynavi Women, 71 percent of those surveyed said they feel comfortable giving chocolates to co-workers on Valentine’s Day. But the survey, conducted in December on 252 women aged 22 to 39, also found that 1 in 4 have given chocolates to co-workers because they thought they were expected to.

First published in The Japan Times on Feb. 7.

Warm up

One-minute chat about “my favorite sweets.”


Collect words related to chocolate, e.g., sweet, cacao, tasty.

New words

1) viral: widely shared online, e.g., “The cat video went viral.”

2) pros and cons: good and bad points, e.g., “The house has pros and cons.”

Guess the headline

G_ _ _ _ _’s dig at o_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Valentine’s chocolates stirs debate in Japan


1) Why did Godiva put out the ad?

2) What was the reaction from Yuraku Confectionery Co.?

3) How did Valentine’s Day culture start in Japan?

Let’s discuss the article

1) What memories do you have of past Valentine’s Days?

2) Do you give or accept giri choko?

3) What do you think of giri choko culture in Japan?


日本で一番チョコレートが売れる日であろうバレンタインデーが日本に根付いてから長く、義理チョコもすっかり文化の一つとなった ような印象があります。しかし本来の バレンタインデーの意味からずれ、半ば買わざるを得ない状況の中で買われていくチョコレートも一定数存在するでしょう。それならやめるべきだ、という意見とどんな気持ちで買われてもチョコレートは人を幸せにするという意見がありそうです。義理チョコはどのような存在なのか、朝の会に参加し皆さんで話し合ってみましょう。


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