Love is in the air here in Tokyo! Although it’s still a bit chilly (and we’re getting some rain this weekend), there are plenty of young couples to be seen whose cheeks are turning rosy from the shyness of having given or received Valentine’s Day gifts.
Valentine’s Day preparations start as early as mid-January, when women decide what to give the guys. (Men return the favor, but usually not on Valentine’s Day — more about that later.) Now, I’m a frequent shopper at Daiso, a fun discount chain whose shelves are always changing to reflect one holiday or another. A month before Halloween, I found my local Daiso stocked with scary masks and fake fangs. Several weeks before Christmas, the store was teeming with Santa hats and stockings in all shapes and sizes. And for New Year’s, there was a whole array of traditional Japanese ornaments we rarely see in the West.
But it never dawned on me that Valentine’s Day in Japan would yield so many products as well. At least, not until I watched Daiso’s shelves turn pink and red — just like those couples’ cheeks!
For women looking to impress their Valentine, chocolate is a must — but not just any chocolate. The actual process of making one’s own chocolates is de rigueur for the holiday. So while there are some ready-made gourmet chocolates available for less-discerning (and deeper-pocketed) gift-givers, there are also bags of inexpensive colored chocolate for novice candymakers to melt, mold and mark with romantic messages and tiny hearts!
And one can’t skimp on the packaging itself. For that, there are bags and boxes adorned with pink, red, and white hearts, as well as all sorts of strings, ribbons, crepe papers — the list goes on. Each step in assembling the gift has its own importance, and every aspect of the packaging is carefully selected.
In Japanese culture, the receipt of a gift must always be repaid. So one month from now, on March 14, a sort of second Valentine’s Day called “White Day” will allow men to show their appreciation as well. The guys won’t be busy in the kitchen making chocolates, and the gifts they give will vary from one to the next. But for someone who loves love (and only gets to celebrate one Valentine’s Day in America), the Japanese spin on romantic holidays is super-exciting to see!