Happy Valentine's Day ... boss!

In Japan, everyone's least favorite Hallmark holiday gets a corporate twist.

Published February 14, 2006 6:35PM (EST)

How did I not know about this? Thanks to BBC News' cross-cultural holiday feature titled "Why Japanese Women Dislike Valentine's Day," I am now aware that in Japan, it's the women who drive the chocolate-heart industry, and not necessarily because they feel like it. "Women are supposed to give chocolate to the men in their lives -- boyfriends, co-workers but especially their bosses," the BBC reports. "The Japanese call it Giri choco, or obligation chocolate, and it's big business.

"Senior executives receive dozens of chocolate boxes from their female staff, which they often take home and feed to their families and children."

Because few Japanese companies have female executives, there aren't many women on the receiving end of the chocolate bonanza. And the few women at the executive level don't generally get gifts on Feb. 14 because the tradition is really about gifting male bosses. Instead, male subordinates usually opt to give female executives presents on the country's "White Day" in March, a more traditionally appropriate day for women to receive gifts. (Nothing says "You may be my boss, but you're still a lady" like a nice White Day token, apparently.)

The Beeb also clears up the issue of why on earth Valentine's Day is popular in Japan in the first place. While the holiday isn't exactly a time-honored Japanese tradition -- it has been popular there only for the past 40 years -- its consumer-driven customs were a perfect fit with Japan's gift-giving culture, and have taken hold in a big way. Still, it's more popular with some segments of the population than others: "A recent survey found that 70 percent of female company workers would like the custom to end," the BBC notes.

"Not surprisingly, most males want it to stay."

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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