A Whirlpool Of Passion For Valentine's Day In Japan

February 10, 2011

Lucy Craft

The Japanese are passionate about Valentine's Day — but they celebrate it with a twist. Women are expected to give chocolate to the men in their lives. And a month later, the men reciprocate. But in the meantime, Japan's sweet shops are whipping up a frenzy for Valentine's-related goods.

Every year, Valentine's Day sends Japan's confectionery and gift industry into overdrive — and the entire country descends into a kind of chocolate madness. The Isehan Co., for instance, offers orange and strawberry chocolate lip gloss — the product is billed as able to "moisturize by melting onto the lips like raw chocolate."

Also in the chocolate-cosmetics category, a Kyoto-based company has launched limited-edition nail polish that could have come from Willy Wonka. The concoction makes it appear as if your nails had been dipped in liquid chocolate. The chocolate-y smell lasts long after the nails dry, the maker claims.

Of course, there is the usual cornucopia of edible sweets. The hot item this year is something called "tablet chocolate" — or, to non-aficionados, "candy bars." Japanese high-end stores are banking on big sales of chocolate tablets from luxury suppliers like Austria's Bacchalm, which turns out handmade bars sprinkled with rose and violet petals — just three ounces costs about $20.

But it isn't a total sweep for European confectioners in Japan this year — a small Brooklyn-based high-end chocolate company, Mast Brothers, is also debuting its goods.

Most retailers are expecting a chocolate rebound in 2011, not just because the economy is stronger, but because Valentine's Day falls on a weekday for the first time in three years. Custom dictates women give chocolate to all the important men in their lives - from fathers and school teachers, to office colleagues and of course boyfriends, so women will probably spend more this year to keep up appearances.

But in Japan, there's no such thing as free chocolate. The confectionary industry has deemed March 14th "White Day," when men are supposed to return the favor and give candy to women.

And to guide the men, an enterprising online fashion store called magaseek has come up with perhaps the most blatantly self-serving Valentine's gifts that a woman could give: a tiny box of sweets, costing about $10 dollars, packed with a message card. The card is printed with the barcode of the bling of the woman's choice — costing up to $200 apiece. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.