Valentine’s Day in Japan is a huge deal – I mean HUGE, especially business-wise. I am not sure how much individual business in the various department stores around Ginza, Shinjuku, etc. can be directly linked to Valentine’s Day, but it’s got to be a massive amount of money! The Japanese absolutely love events, especially ones that mean gift giving in some way. Valentine’s Day caters directly to the heart of the Japanese culture and spirit in that sense!
The Japanese celebrate Valentine’s Day in a very orthodox way, the women buy the men presents, and possibly there is a romantic dinner on the evening of February 14. That’s pretty much it. In many other cultures, this strict female -> male gift giving has been changed to become sort of a mutual romantic holiday, where it’s mainly the women who get gifts. Not so in Japan. The reason? White Day on March 14, which is sort of the opposite, where it’s the men’s turn to “give back” to the woman (or women) who gave them something on Valentine’s Day. In the resources regarding White Day I have found, it says that it was invented in 1965 by a marshmallow maker. (I had heard that it was Joseph Dunkle, president of Aunt Stella’s Cookies who introduced it, but apparently that was untrue.)
Back to Valentine’s Day though. One of my favorite parts of the whole shebang surrounding this day is the big chocolate fairs that they have in the big department stores. Giving chocolate for Valentine’s Day has become such a big business that many department stores set up special booth areas for approximately two weeks leading up to it, where chocolate makers from all over the world present their goods. They often have special Valentine’s Day only gift packs, and some are unique only to Japan (being the huge market it is). And here is the real clincher: they give out samples of their stuff, lots of it! (Note however, that the most famous brands, such as Marcolini and Pascal Caffet, will usually not give out samples, because they are so sure of their brand’s superior taste…) Last weekend, me and my girlfriend walked around the Chocolate Fair at Takashimaya Shinjuku for an hour sampling pretty much everything there was (and some things twice) and then we travelled across town to Printemps Ginza to check out their Chocolate lineup. All in all, a very rewarding day! This weekend, we will try to hit Takashimaya and Mitsukoshi in Nihonbashi and perhaps Matsuya in Ginza.
The companies displaying products at these fairs are the very best in the Chocolate business: Pascal Caffet, Galler, Wittamer, Pierre Ledent, Godiva, Teuscher, Läderrach, Pierre Marcolini, Le Cordon Bleu, Daskalides, Marc Debailleul etc.
Personally, I strongly recommend Galler and Pierre Ledent, those are my two favorites!