They do things differently in Japan. On Valentine’s Day in Japan it’s the girls who give to the boys, and it’s always chocolate. A girl can give chocolate to as many men as she likes but the quality and quantity will indicate how she really feels: giving just a little of a cheaper variety (‘duty’ or ‘courtesy’ chocolate) is a not-so-subtle message to a work colleague or male acquaintance that he doesn’t feature too largely in her dreams. Bestowing expensive, beautifully wrapped chocolates that she may even have made herself (‘true feelings’ or ‘favourite’ chocolate) expresses true romantic interest in the recipient. Of course the hapless male may find it difficult to discern the real message.
Men get a chance to return the favour, though. On White Day, a month later, the boys are expected to give more expensive gifts of chocolate, flowers, jewellery and lingerie.
It all started in the 1950s when the concept of Valentine’s Day in Japan was imported by a chocolate company. Because Japanese women are the traditional buyers of sweets the company aimed its marketing at females and the role reversal stuck. Chocolate manufacturers then came up with White Day for men to buy marshmallows for women – and somehow over time marshmallows morphed into expensive jewellery and lingerie.
One cafe in Tokyo uses the latest 3D printing technology to allow female customers to make chocolate versions of their head. After each customer has her head scanned and turned into a digital model, a high-performance 3D printer makes a silicone mould of the face which is then filled with liquid chocolate. Once out of the mould, the face can be decorated with bows or hearts, or even put on a lollipop stick. But what is a man to do – keep it as a cherished memento, or eat it?