However, there is a really interesting cultural twist in their Valentine's Day traditions. In this article, I talk only about the Japanese Valentine's Day, but similar twists can be observed in other countries, too.
In Japan, celebrating Valentine's Day originally started among high school girls in 1970's, although there were some failed attempts on the part of Japanese chocolate-makers to introduce the holiday before then. The high school girls decided they would give chocolates to boys whom they adored. At the time, this was quite innovative, and a bold move among Japanese girls when there were still many women following the more old-fashioned "arrangement" path to marriage. As the high school girls grew up, this Valentine's Day "tradition" was gradually expanded, and by the late 70's, it was the major event of the year for women of all ages. This was the day that a woman could send chocolates as a token of love to a man. Even among married couples, the wife would give chocolate to her husband. Eventually, women started sending chocolates to male friends and even to their bosses as expression of thanks.
As the Valentine's Day gift-giving became more popular in Japan, every man was hoping to get at least one chocolate gift on Valentine's Day -- but of course it wouldn't always happen. Some men got 20 gifts, and others got none. Valentine's Day turned into a beauty contest for the men in which the women voted who was most "attractive." However, this created major problems in the close-knit Japanese society. If one male employee got 20 chocolate gifts from women in the office, but other men got none, this would create a major strain in the workplace. How could the ladies solve this dilemma? They invented a chocolate named "obligatory" chocolate ("Giri-choco" in Japanese). This chocolate had the word "obligation" printed on the surface of the chocolate, but from the outside, the wrapper looked the same. The office ladies would all chip in the cash to buy these chocolates and send them to the less popular men in the office so that, at least on the surface, these men wouldn't have to lose face.
Another cultural twist is "White Day." It falls on March 14th, a month after Valentine's. On this day, a man will return a "love" token to the woman who gave him chocolates on Valentine's day. White Day is really just the invention of chocolate makers, but its popularity shot up immediately as many women thought it was not fair to just give chocolates on Valentine's day and get nothing back. Originally, men would just give some sweets back to the sender, but gradually women started to expect to get more expensive gifts in return. This was acceptable, since man's status is still higher than that of women in Japan and Japanese society still expects a man to take care of a woman.
Unfortunately, this new tradition also went to too far. A "popular" superior at the office now needed to cough up rather large amount of money to buy return gifts to the women in the office, rather than simply spending the same amount on his wife! Some clever women took advantage of the situation, and sent out large numbers of cheap chocolates to as many men as they could find, and then expected to get some more valuable gifts in return. If she did not get anything from a certain man, then bad rumors, saying the guy was stingy, would be circulated in the office. No man needs that, as the reputation is very important in Japanese society.
Although Valentine's Day is still huge and 20% of yearly chocolate sales are made just for the one day, there is some feeling of discontent among the Japanese. According to one of several recent studies, as both men and women mature, their antipathy toward Valentine's day increases. It is fun as high school kids, but then it becomes a obligatory social burden as they become a part of mainstream society.
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Although I do not think that Valentine's Day will ホワイトデー from Japanese society, since it has a huge commercial importance as Christmas does for the Japanese (or, in that matter, for the US) economy, I expect there will be ホワイトデー evolution of Valentine's Day in Japan. Probably in 20 yrs., you may not even recognize Japanese Valentine's Day as the same celebration as we have in the Western World
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