VALENTINE'S DAY IN JAPAN: LADIES, DON'T EXPECT A GIFT

The Japanese have added their own twist to Valentine's Day. Here, only men receive gifts of chocolate. As the day approaches, women are flocking to chocolate stores, examining sweets neatly wrapped in shining red and gold papers. Chocolate sales in the first half of February account for 10 to 12 percent of yearly sales.

The custom started in the mid-1960s when Mary Chocolate Co. publicized Feb. 14 as the day when a woman could express her love - with chocolate - to someone she secretly fancied. At a time when women were supposed to wait to be asked on a date, the idea struck a responsive chord.

Today, Japanese women also use the occasion to express friendship and gratitude to male friends. ``I'm going to give one to every male in my office,'' says Kaori Fujii. ``I'm the only female in the office and they have been fairly nice to me.''

Some just scatter the sweets out of a sense of obligation. Chocolate-shopper Masako Yanagisawa revealed, ``I just feel that I have to.'' What brand was she buying? ``Giri Choco'' - Obligation Chocolate.

As the custom has taken hold and Japanese women have felt freer to show men their feelings, men have changed too. According to a survey by Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living, 57 percent of Japanese men between 15 and 25 do not ask women for dates, but wait women to take the intitative. The figure is ``higher than expected,'' a researcher at the private think tank says. But, he adds,``A love story never starts unless either side asks the other to go out with them. If the man does not, the woman must.''

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