Japan has a long history of adopting and then adapting Western traditions. Comic books and animation brought forth manga and anime; baseball was reshaped with an emphasis on speed and fundamentals; spaghetti became Japanese spaghetti. Which is like spaghetti but different.
The Japanese also bring their own particular touch to Valentine’s Day. In Japan the day has been split into two separate events, a month apart—Valentine’s Day on February 14 and White Day, March 14. Valentine’s Day, first up on the calendar, is done differently there. It’s the day when Japanese women present gifts to the men in their lives. The tradition is reminiscent of Sadie Hawkins Day when women are expected to turn the tables and ask men out (a day which has fallen out of favour in recent years, a victim of the question, “Well, why wouldn’t they?”)
Japanese Valentine’s Day gifts are similar—chocolate, sweets, tokens of affection and esteem. Still, the Japanese Valentine’s Day casts its net a little wider. It doesn’t seem to be strictly romantic. Although women give gifts to sweethearts (and those whose affections they would like to attract), Valentine’s Day gifts are also offered to male friends and co-workers. It seems to be more like the tradition of giving Valentine’s cards to classmates at school—everybody got one although you might save the biggest one for a particular classmate (although as Lisa Simpson discovered, one must be careful about who gets the coveted “I choo-choo-choose you” Valentine).
The one-way nature of Japanese Valentine’s Day requires a reciprocal event. Hence White Day a month later, when men return the favour. White Day was initially called Marshmallow Day and, like other calendar events such as Mother’s Day, was the creation of retailers hoping to sell product. Marshmallow Day evolved into White Day and developed its own traditions—chiefly that if a man hopes his White Day gift will be received as an expression of love it must be more extravagant than the initial Valentine’s Day gift. White chocolate is a favourite. And on both occasions a gift of hand-made chocolate is of particular significance. Handmade is the “I choo-choo-choose you” of the Japanese chocolate world. So if you’re not serious, make it a Snickers.