When European chocolate traditions meet unique Japanese flavours
In February, Rosalie’s Chocolates opened 38 pop-up shops in department stores across Japan. It’s a well-honoured tradition in Japan for chocolate brands to launch temporary pop-up stores, just in time for Valentine’s Day. Because what do the Japanese gift their loved ones on Valentine’s Day? Lots and lots of chocolate! In this blog post, we take a deeper dive into the chocolate culture of Japan.
From luxury item to everyone’s favourite dessert
Dutch traders introduced chocolate as a Western luxury confectionary to Japan during the eighteenth century. Chocolate only became widely popular in Japan in the 1920s, when domestic confectionary manufacturers developed affordable chocolate snacks. Japanese cuisine is known for its unique and complex flavours, resulting from the country’s rich culinary history and use of fresh, high-quality ingredients. Today, chocolate forms a significant part of Japan’s food culture, with one-of-a-kind flavours, high-end chocolate shops, and two (!) chocolate holidays setting the tone.
Exploring chocolate culture in Japan
One significant difference between the chocolate culture in Japan and Europe is the focus on flavours. Japanese chocolate makers are known for their unique and unconventional flavours. Green tea, sakura (cherry blossom), wasabi, and even soy sauce are some of the unusual flavours you can find in Japanese chocolate. While European chocolatiers certainly experiment, they tend to place more emphasis on traditional flavours like dark and milk chocolate and classic chocolate bonbons. Chocolate is also used extensively in Japanese desserts, such as mochi (rice cakes), ice cream, and cake. Japanese pastry chefs often use high-quality chocolate and specific techniques to create delicious and visually stunning desserts.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day and White Day with chocolate treats
Japan is also home to many high-end chocolate shops, particularly in cities like Tokyo and Kyoto. These shops offer surprising chocolate flavours and beautifully crafted chocolates that make for excellent gifts or souvenirs. On Valentine’s Day in Japan, women gift chocolate to the important people in their lives. Women typically give three types of chocolate: “giri-choco,” which is obligatory chocolate given to colleagues, bosses, or acquaintances, “honmei-choco,” which is given to a romantic partner, and “tomo-choco”, which is gifted to friends. This tradition skyrockets chocolate sales in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. One month later, on March 14th, men who received chocolate on Valentine’s Day are expected to return the favour by giving gifts to the women in their lives. This day is called White Day, and it is traditional for men to offer women white chocolate or white-coloured gifts on this day.