Despite there being 2 very important Japanese holidays in February (Setsubun - Seasonal Division Day - on February 3rd, and Kenkoku Kinen no hi - National Foundation Day - on February 11th), the biggest day of the month (and some might say the biggest day of the first quarter) is VALENTINES DAY!
With Valentines Day approaching, the stores in Osaka have gone mad (as usual, over decorated) with hearts, signs and promises of bargains for shoppers - whether they are buying chocolates for their boyfriends or clothes for themselves!
The Japanese celebrate Valentines day in a rather unique fashion.
Women give the men gifts of chocolate as well as other gifts.
These gifts of chocolate are divided into two types: giri choco (obligatory chocolate) and honmei choco (chocolate for the man the woman is serious about). Giri choco is given by women to their superiors at work as well as to other male co-workers. It is not unusual for a woman to buy 20 to 30 boxes of this type of chocolate for distribution around the office as well as to men that she has regular contact with (even her brother and father).
A woman will normally purchase boxes of giri choco in the several hundred yen range and may purchase an expensive box of honmei choco and another gift such as a tie or a card case for her `special someone`. It is now becoming increasingly popular for women to make chocolates, muffins or cupcakes (from boxed mixes) to show their baking skills to potential future husbands!
While all of this may seem quite one-sided, confectioners in Japan - never ones to miss an opportunity to sell more - took advantage of the Japanese feelings of obligation and created `White Day` in 1980 to help assuage the guilt feelings of those poor obligated males who received chocolate on Valentines Day.
On March 14th, exactly one month after Valentines Day, men who were lucky enough to receive gifts of chocolate have the chance to return the favor by giving the women who gave them gifts of chocolate a more expensive box of chocolate or sweets (for some reason or other, these return gifts seem to be priced slightly higher than those the women purchase). Again, the stores provide plenty of reminders of the approach of this day so that even the most forgetful man cannot say that it slipped his mind.