(TOKYO) -- Nobody does Valentine’s Day quite like the Japanese -- more specifically, Japanese women.
While Feb. 14 has been set aside as the day of romance in the U.S., Japanese tradition calls for women to give chocolates to men.
A sleek marketing campaign conjured up by Japanese confectioner Mary’s Chocolate reportedly started the custom in the 1950s. Fifty years later, the holiday has morphed into an all out celebration of chocolate in Japan, with women and social obligation driving half the annual $5 billion in sales.
“It’s almost like a fifth season. It’s that big,” said Adam Kassab, a professor at Globis University in Tokyo. “The marketing people are very clever because they linked giving chocolates with a very core, cultural belief or value which is showing appreciation or social obligation.”
The gift giving isn’t limited to a significant other; chocolates are also given out to co-workers, friends and family. The exchange even comes with its own etiquette rules, according to Kassab.
Cheaper chocolates given to male bosses and co-workers are dubbed “giri-choco” or “obligation chocolates.”
“Anything below $10 is, they’re not that special to you,” Kassab said. “You just have to do it because everybody else does it.”
The chocolate giving custom isn’t cheap. A recent survey by department store Printemps Ginza found that women on average spend about $35 on chocolate for their significant other, and shell out more than $100 for obligation chocolates. They set aside $30 to buy chocolates for themselves, also known as “jibun choco.”
And Japanese men aren’t entirely off the hook. While they may not have to give chocolates on Valentine’s Day, they are expected to return the favor on their own manufactured holiday -- "White Day" -- a month from now.
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