A Whirlpool Of Passion For Valentine's Day In Japan

A family enjoys a dip in the "chocolate spa" at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort in Hakone, 60 miles west of Tokyo. Each year, the Yunessun offers the special spa to mark Valentine's Day. i i

A family enjoys a dip in the "chocolate spa" at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort in Hakone, 60 miles west of Tokyo. Each year, the Yunessun offers the special spa to mark Valentine's Day. Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images
A family enjoys a dip in the "chocolate spa" at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort in Hakone, 60 miles west of Tokyo. Each year, the Yunessun offers the special spa to mark Valentine's Day.

A family enjoys a dip in the "chocolate spa" at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort in Hakone, 60 miles west of Tokyo. Each year, the Yunessun offers the special spa to mark Valentine's Day.

Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

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 sweets 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 said 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 polish makes nails look like they've been dipped in liquid chocolate, and the chocolate-y scent lasts long after the nails dry, according to the manufacturer.

Of course, there is the usual cornucopia of edible sweets. The hot item this year is "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; a 3-ounce portion costs about $20.

An employee at Tokyo store Message de Rose displays Valentine's Day chocolates at the Takashimaya department store's "Amour du Chocolat" event. i i

An employee at Tokyo store Message de Rose displays Valentine's Day chocolates at the Takashimaya department store's "Amour du Chocolat" event. Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images
An employee at Tokyo store Message de Rose displays Valentine's Day chocolates at the Takashimaya department store's "Amour du Chocolat" event.

An employee at Tokyo store Message de Rose displays Valentine's Day chocolates at the Takashimaya department store's "Amour du Chocolat" event.

Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty Images

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 there.

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 that women give chocolate to all of the important men in their lives — from fathers and schoolteachers, 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 confectionery industry has deemed March 14 "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 gift a woman could give: A tiny box of sweets, costing about $10 dollars, is packed with a message card that has a bar code for the woman's preferred gift, which may cost up to $200.

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