Love is all around at this time of year, but on Valentine’s Day in Japan it isn’t so evenly distributed. The festival of romance has long suffered from a gender imbalance here: Feb. 14 is traditionally a day for women to give presents to men — not just their partners, but also often fellow students, coworkers, family members or other hangers-on (such gifts are aptly termed giri-choko, or “obligation chocolates”).
A month later, the fellows are expected to repay in kind, on what’s known as White Day — a festival that might feel more meaningful if it hadn’t been instituted by the National Confectionary Industry Association in 1978.
Maybe that’s why Japanese men tend to look forward to Valentine’s Day more than their female counterparts. In a recent survey of more than 3,000 people in their 20s and 30s, two-thirds of men reported that they were expecting love to bloom on Feb. 14; in contrast, nearly half of the women answered that they weren’t.
This situation might be starting to change, though. Just look at the continued spread of Flower Valentine, a nationwide campaign that encourages guys to adopt the Western tradition of presenting a bouquet to their beloved. Supported by florists and restaurants from Hokkaido to Okinawa, this flowery offensive may be every bit as industry-driven as White Day, but it feels like a step in the right direction all the same. Surely it can’t be so hard for boys and girls to treat each other nicely on the same day of the year?
True love in Tokyo
Where there’s romance, there’s Mickey. Tokyo DisneySea hosts one of the area’s most popular Valentine’s events, though romance seems to be fairly low on the agenda here. The evening Valentine Nights concerts, which run until Feb. 16, feature a cast of singers and costumed characters performing popular Disney songs with full orchestral accompaniment. Audience members can submit messages of affection that appear on a screen in the background during the performance — and don’t be surprised if many of them are addressed toward friends and parents rather than significant others.
Timing is everything at Tokyo Skytree. If you’re on the 350-meter observation deck around sunset on Feb. 14, you can snag a complimentary Pierre Hermé chocolate. With a commendably nerdy attention to detail, they’re giving away exactly 634 — the number of days that the Skytree has been open. And when does this happen? At 5:22 p.m., in reference to the date the tower opened. Those who miss out can still enjoy a boozy drink at the Skytree Café, which is temporarily lifting its no-alcohol policy until March 16 to serve sparkling wine and beer.
Determined not to be overshadowed by its lofty successor, Tokyo Tower is holding an event of its own. The tower’s outdoor stairwell is usually only open during the daytime on weekends, but you can go for an atmospheric twilight climb on Feb. 14, starting from 4 p.m. With 600-odd steps to get up, it might not be the most relaxing of date options, but there’s an added incentive to go the distance: The first 500 couples to reach the 150-meter main observation deck will get a free flower.
The gents aren’t even invited at the Conrad Tokyo in Minato Ward, which is offering a decadent ladies-only afternoon tea session from 5-9 p.m. on Feb. 14, titled “Who Needs Men?” And if you don’t have a date, you can always take your dog for a romantic stroll among the glittering lights at Tokorozawa’s Seibuen Yuenchi amusement park, which is letting customers bring their pets to view its evening illuminations until Feb. 16.
A little further out of town, Enoshima in Kanagawa Prefecture will also be lit up over the weekend. The popular tourist spot on the Shonan coast gets an atmospheric makeover on the evening of Feb. 15, when hundreds of illuminated balloons will be handed out to visitors as they make their way to the island’s Samuel Cocking Garden. On arriving, they can join an off-kilter Valentine Disco featuring hula dancers and “anisong” DJ Saolith, among others. Well, it makes a change from Disney.
Kansai’s date spots
While it’s always a popular date spot, Osaka’s Umeda Sky Tower is giving one lucky couple a particularly memorable night out on Feb. 14. The winning pair, who were chosen by lottery, will be sharing a romantic cocktail in the 39th floor Sky Lounge before being whisked up to the rooftop for a private canoodle, sound-tracked by a song of their choice. If you didn’t win the draw, you can console yourself with a Valentine’s hot chocolate cocktail or sweet strawberry waffle at Café Sky 40, both only available until Feb. 14.
Speaking of popular date spots, there are bound to be plenty of couples heading to Kobe’s Mount Maya and Mount Rokko this weekend, to snuggle up tight while enjoying one of Japan’s greatest nighttime vistas. Just be warned that the Maya Ropeway isn’t running at the moment, making Rokko the better option if you’re planning to go by public transport. Down in the harbor, meanwhile, you can take a romantic afternoon or evening cruise aboard the Luminous Kobe-2 boat, which is offering a five-course Valentine’s dinner deal until Feb. 16.
This weekend marks the end of many of the winter illuminations in Osaka. The display at Namba Park would make a pleasant backdrop for an evening stroll, but if you really want to impress your date, head to the appropriately named “Super Illumination” at Osaka Castle, which uses the iconic citadel as a canvas for some pretty spectacular 3-D mapping. Both finish on Feb. 16.
In Kyoto, cheapskates can get a free entertainment fix at the Kyoto Century Hotel, which is marking Valentine’s Day with an evening of acoustic jazz ballads in its second-floor lobby. Meanwhile, those in search of something a little more exclusive will find it at the Westin Miyako Kyoto. Take in the scenery while enjoying an amorous dinner at the Grandview restaurant, available until Feb. 16, or opt for a Chinese multicourse meal — complete with complementary sparkling wine — at Shisen (Feb. 14 only).
Chocolate fairs are unavoidable in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, as department stores around the country try to out-tantalize each other with the biggest, most decadent smorgasbord of sweets. Boasting 160 different brands, from Godiva to recent International Chocolate Awards winner Patissier Es Koyama, JR Takashimaya’s Amour du Chocolat is Japan’s largest such event — and it finishes on Feb. 14.
Sweet fiends with less expensive tastes might want to pick up a box of Pocky instead and head to Nagoya TV Tower on the afternoon of Feb. 14. From 3 p.m. till 9 p.m., couples toting a packet of the chocolate-coated biscuit sticks can get their picture taken by a professional photographer on the tower’s 90-meter-high Sky Deck.
The Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium is also offering a welcoming berth for lovers over the weekend. Until Feb. 16, you can catch early afternoon concerts in front of the aquarium’s main tank, where musicians will be performing valentine-appropriate pieces while bottlenose dolphins frolic in the background.
Sweet in Sapporo
You might just get what you wish for at Sapporo Stellar Place. In addition to enticing shoppers to splurge on Valentine’s gifts, the shopping center is inviting couples to scribble messages of love on paper hearts and hand them in at a special booth on the third floor. Once Valentine’s Day is done, the collected missives will be ceremonially burned at Iyahiko Shrine, which is traditionally associated with marriage.
That done, you can head upstairs to the JR Tower’s T38 observation deck, where there’ll be a live jazz band playing from 8 p.m on Feb. 14. Take in the 360-degree panorama while listening to standards including “My One and Only Love” and (of course) “My Funny Valentine.”
The restaurants in the Sapporo Grand Hotel are offering a variety of special dinner courses until Feb. 15, all of which finish with a valentine-themed dessert.
And while this doesn’t sound particularly date-friendly, there’s a Lolita-kei Valentine’s tea party taking place at Carin café on Feb. 15. Dress code is strictly Lolita fashion, and you’ll need to bring a cake — either homemade or store-bought — to share around.
A Fukuoka fling
Keep an eye out for a bus load of shivering blokes on Feb. 14. The double-decker Fukuoka Open Top Bus will be conveying a small group of men around the city wearing only tank tops, in an effort to prove their manliness (and maybe win a free hotel stay for two). It’s advance reservation only, sadly, but if you aren’t taking part yourself, look on the bright side: At least you won’t be going home with hypothermia that night.
Fukuoka Tower has upgraded its famous “Lovers’ Sanctuary” for the week. After attaching a symbolic love padlock to the observation deck’s fence, couples can skip through a glittery heart-shaped floral wreath festooned with LED lights. Pair tickets, complete with padlock, are available for a discounted ¥2,000 until Feb. 14.
Singles and couples are equally welcome at the With The Style hotel, where local magazine Fukuoka Now is hosting its own Valentine’s Party on the evening of Feb. 14. Expect an international crowd, live jazz, champagne and chocolate fountains.
Mid-February is a bit late for cherry-blossom viewing in Okinawa, but the trees in Naha’s Yogi Park save their blooms until Valentine’s Day. If you’re looking for a cheap date option, head to the Naha Sakura Matsuri (until Feb. 16) for a stroll under the flowering trees, accompanied by stage shows including live folk music and hula dance.
For last-minute gifts, try the Ryubo department store’s inaugural Chocolate Garden fair or catch the end of Mitsukoshi’s Valentine’s Day campaign, both of which finish on Feb. 14.
This month marks the (ahem) “Climax Fantasy” of Kanucha Resort’s sprawling, eco-friendly winter illuminations, dubbed Stardust Fantasia. You could make an evening out of it by opting for a dinner-ticket set, which includes entry to the illuminations, a meal for two and a discount voucher redeemable for an overnight stay at the resort — just in case things go really well.