Love is in the air from Bondi to Mount Fuji
Australians seeking love on Valentine's Day speed-dated in deckchairs on Bondi Beach, while Japanese trekked through snow in search of romance and Filipinos sang syrupy ballads.
More than 2,000 people signed up for 16 simultaneous speed-dating events in eight Australian cities on Thursday, with the proceeds going to charity.
Australian newspapers ran pages of Valentine's Day love messages to people with nicknames like "Boo Bubby", "Pookey", "The Phantom" and "Wicked Wench". "I love 2 Things", wrote a romantic Johnny, adding "cars & u".
Australia's mobile telephone networks were preparing for an onslaught of love over the airwaves this Valentine's Day. Top phone company Telstra expected picture messages to be up 60 per cent and video calls 50 per cent higher than normal.
And family planning officials in Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, marked Valentine's Day by urging lovers to "say it with flowers and do it with condoms".
Some Australian health authorities warned of the high risk of sexually transmitted infections on Valentine's Day.
Valentine's Day in the Philippines was celebrated traditionally, with a riot of red and pink roses, heart-shaped cards and syrupy love ballads.
But Manila's Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales warned against "exclusive moments" between unmarried couples.
"We advise everyone to be careful especially when spending time with one's boyfriend or girlfriend," Rosales said in an interview on Church-run Radio Veritas. "Sometimes, celebration of this day -- which is not really bad -- ends up in a sin."
Say a prayer
Although a largely Roman Catholic country, where marriage is heavily emphasised, extramarital affairs are often accepted in the Philippines and teenage pregnancy is not uncommon.
The cardinal said religious pastimes such as attending Mass or saying the rosary were a good way of celebrating special days, such as Valentines. "It's best to look for honest-to-goodness entertainment," he said.
A day before Valentine's Day, more than 500 Japanese women sailed across the Ashino-ko lake at the foot of Mount Fuji, then trekked through a snow-covered forest to pray for love at the small red Kuzuryu shrine, a famous divine match-making site.
The more than 1,000-year-old shrine, whose name means "nine-headed dragon", started to attract singles after some pilgrims reported that their prayers for romance had been heard.
"I prayed for the man I love to fall in love with me," said Ayumi Sakai, a 25-year-old saleswoman who had arrived in one of two love boats ferrying more than 500 women to the shrine.
With both men and women in Japan increasingly putting off marriage to pursue their careers -- often cited as one reason behind the country's low birth rate -- lovelorn Japanese in search of a partner need all the support they can get.
In the Japanese version of Valentine's Day, women buy chocolates for their lovers and even colleagues, while men return the favour a month later, on White Day.
Chaucer first linked Valentine's Day, with roots in both an early Christian martyr and an ancient Roman fertility festival, to romance in a 1381 poem, according to some references. The exchange of cards was popularised in England not long after.
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