Japanese men urged to break tradition, ‘say it with flowers’ on Valentine’s Day

Musicians paraded through Tokyo streets on Tuesday as women in gauzy gowns gave flowers to female passersby to try to persuade Japanese men to ‘say it with flowers’ on Valentine’s Day, a rare practice in a land where women typically give chocolates to men.

Ever since Valentine’s Day took off in Japan some four decades ago, the holiday has been celebrated with a twist: women buy chocolates and gifts for men, including bosses and colleagues as well as lovers and spouses. Some men return the favour a month later on “White Day”. Performers from art collective “NAKED” wanted to give men a glimpse of how happy women could be to receive a bouquet. They plan to hand out 1,000 flowers over two days.

“In Japan, culturally, most men are too shy to give flowers to the people whom they cherish, but we wanted to transmit a new tradition where men can give flowers, especially on a special day like Valentine’s Day,” said event organiser Sayaka Kanzaki. Shopper Yoko Kinugasa liked the idea. “For women especially, receiving flowers is a happy thing,” she said.

Another female shopper, Aika Akahori, said she’s never received flowers in her life. To her, Valentine’s Day means baking and planning to take her husband on a date. “It is difficult to tell Japanese men ‘Can I have flowers,’ but if there is a man who’d do that, I would welcome it,” she said. Company executive Yoshiyuki Shimada, who was buying flowers at a flower shop, did not seem convinced. “I already received chocolates so I will give something back in return. If I received chocolates, I will give back chocolates,” he said. “These flowers are for my office because clients are coming.”

Earlier this month, Belgian confection maker Godiva took aim at the Japanese custom of “giri choco”, or obligation chocolate, that pressures women to give sweets to their male colleagues and bosses. On Feb. 1 Godiva took out a full-page newspaper ad calling for an end to the practice. Noting that some women hate the tradition, the ad – headlined “Japan, let’s stop ‘giri choco’“ – said, “Valentine’s Day is the day people convey their true feelings, not the day people coordinate relationships at work.”

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