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Chocolates Take Back Seat as Love Goes High-Tech in Tokyo

February 14, 1987

TOKYO (AP) _ Videotapes and other high-tech gear have joined chocolate as the way to a man’s heart in this country where only women give presents on Valentine’s Day.

The imported holiday, which has been enthusiastically celebrated in Japan since at least the 1950s, has challenged retailers to come up with new ways for women to declare their undying affection.

At Seibu department store, for instance, a professional cameraman will shoot an original three-minute Valentine’s videotape - either in Betamax or VHS. At a cost of about $65, store spokeswoman Yayoi Nakagawa said, the woman can choose the movie location, sound effects and extra props.

The edited tape is wrapped in the woman’s photograph and delivered to her loved one in about a week, Ms. Nakagawa said.

For women with boyfriends abroad, the Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping area has installed a telephone facsimile machine for use at no charge to message absent suitors. Spokesman Junji Tanaka said the machine could send a facsimile of a printed message to any part of the world.

Matsuya department store, also on the Ginza, offers telephone cards custom- inscribed with messages meant ″to inspire men to telephone the women in their lives,″ a store spokeswoman said. They can be inserted into pay telephones to make up to $3.25 worth of free calls.

The cards, with phrases like ″I love you″ or ″Please telephone me,″ cost $4.50 and come with a carrying case fitted with a heart-shaped piece of chocolate, Masako Takeuchi said.

Masahisa Uchino, director general of the Chocolate and Cocoa Association of Japan, said confectioners were hoping to sell at least $295 million worth of chocolate this year during the two weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day.

The goal, which represents 10 percent of Japan’s total annual chocolate sales, is 8 percent higher than last year’s figure, Uchino said.

It’s not known exactly when Valentine’s Day was first celebrated in Japan. Some say it started before World War II, while one major confectioner says it began when one of its executives brought the idea back from Europe in the early 1950s.

Whenever it began, the day has become a commercial success, as well as a chance for an outpouring of affection from Japanese women, who then must patiently wait until White Day on March 14.

On White Day, decidedly a Japanese holiday, the men of the country are given a chance to reciprocate by giving hard candy to the women in their lives.

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