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Saleswomen stand by to wrap boxes of chocolate at a row of Valentine's Day booths in the More's building next to Yokosuka Chuo Station in Yokosuka, Japan, on Thursday. For Valentine's Day in Japan, women purchase chocolates for men.

Saleswomen stand by to wrap boxes of chocolate at a row of Valentine's Day booths in the More's building next to Yokosuka Chuo Station in Yokosuka, Japan, on Thursday. For Valentine's Day in Japan, women purchase chocolates for men. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

Saleswomen stand by to wrap boxes of chocolate at a row of Valentine's Day booths in the More's building next to Yokosuka Chuo Station in Yokosuka, Japan, on Thursday. For Valentine's Day in Japan, women purchase chocolates for men.

Saleswomen stand by to wrap boxes of chocolate at a row of Valentine's Day booths in the More's building next to Yokosuka Chuo Station in Yokosuka, Japan, on Thursday. For Valentine's Day in Japan, women purchase chocolates for men. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

Colorful Valentine’s Day cakes and goodies decorate a window at a pastry shop in Tokyo's Midtown on Thursday.

Colorful Valentine’s Day cakes and goodies decorate a window at a pastry shop in Tokyo's Midtown on Thursday. (Erik Slavin / S&S)

A store clerk describes Valentine's Day chocolates to a customer at a shop in Tokyo's Midtown on Thursday.

A store clerk describes Valentine's Day chocolates to a customer at a shop in Tokyo's Midtown on Thursday. (Hana Kusumoto / S&S)

While many American men fret over what on Earth will make their American girlfriends and wives happy on Valentine’s Day, men with Japanese girlfriends are decidedly more relaxed.

In Japan, Valentine’s Day roles are somewhat reversed.

The woman buys the man chocolates and might even take him out on the town that night.

"It’s the way it should work," said a smiling Petty Officer 1st Class Craig Elstak of Brooklyn, N.Y., at Yokosuka Naval Base on Thursday. "I’m already set for this weekend. I’m ready to be taken out and treated like a Japanese man."

But Elstak, who has been in Japan for about two years, knows there is a flip side.

Japan also has White Day on March 14, when the man is expected to give the woman cookies and candy.

"The stress of it all is really decreased," Elstak said. "If she goes all out on Valentine’s Day, you know you’re going to go all out [on White Day]."

For the Japanese, Valentine’s Day can be part of the country’s seemingly endless gift-giving obligations.

Japanese women are expected to buy chocolates for their boyfriends, but in many cases they’re also supposed to give chocolates to men they work with — even married men and men they don’t particularly like.

That’s why some women said they were happy that Valentine’s Day is on a Saturday this year — it relieves them of some work obligations and allows them to spend more on their friends and boyfriends.

"I plan to give [chocolate] to my boyfriend," said 21-year-old college student Mio Takahashi in Tokyo’s Shibuya neighborhood, where women crowded at department store booths displaying many colorfully wrapped boxes of Valentine’s chocolates.

Takahashi said the American way of pampering women on Valentine’s Day didn’t sound so bad either.

"If someone will give me [presents], I want it," she said.

Some Americans said they’d oblige.

"Most likely, I would still buy a woman a gift on Valentine’s Day," said Seaman Charles Hamilton of White Settlement, Texas, who arrived in Japan less than a week ago.

"It’s the way I was raised, especially being from Texas."

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, Elstak said.

Japanese women who receive an unexpected romantic gesture from an American they like will probably appreciate it, he said.

The key is to mix the gesture with a respect for Japanese humility, Elstak said.

When giving a Japanese woman a gift, don’t act like it’s a big deal, and she’ll be happy, he said.

"You get serious points" for being humble, Elstak said. "Do what your mom taught you, what your dad taught you, and you’re straight."

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.
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