For most people around the world, Valentine’s day is a holiday to show love or affection to important people in their lives. Its common to receive chocolate, flowers,and cards to make that special someone feel loved. While the tradition is nearly universal around the globe, the Japanese approach is quite different.
As with most Western holidays that make their way around the world, many traditions and customs are created by commercial organizations to increase annual revenue. Its no surprise Valentine’s day is no exception. Japanese Valentines Day makes its first appearance in Tokyo around the early 1950s, when the international chocolatier, Morozoff Ltd., popularized the giving of heart-shaped chocolates. After their initial success, many Japanese chocolate companies followed suit. Towards the end of the late 1950’s Valentines was a fully integrated Japanese holiday. Unlike Western countries, gifts like dinner dates, flowers,and stuffed animals, are uncommon, with most of the Japanese Valentines focused on giving the right amount and quality of chocolate to each person.
Then again, in America, we give a lot of chocolate as well. So, what makes Japan different?
Only girls give chocolate, and mistranslation is to blame.
Shortly after becoming a Japanese holiday, every department store from Tokyo to Nagasaki was selling chocolate for Valentine’sDay, including the renowned Isetan store. Isetan, located in Shinjuku, is considered to be one of the most influential department stores in Japan and is usually the first to display the newest products and trends. Isetan’s 1958 Valentines chocolate ad campaign ended up lost in translation, and instead of encouraging men to buy chocolate for women, the campaign ended up stating that Valentine’s day was an opportunity for women to express their appreciation for the men in their lives. Other department stores quickly adapted their ads to match Isetan’s in a domino-like effect. The tradition of women buying chocolate for men every February 14th is a tradition that remains today.
While Japanese men aren’t complaining, had Isetan sent their ad campaign to International Translating Company, this mistranslation could have been avoided. After having been in the business of translating since 1969, we know a thing or two about getting translations done right the first time. Our use of strictly native linguists, and trained professionals that accompany every step of our unique process ensure a correct translation, guaranteed every time.