Japan's unique sequel to Valentine's Day
Most countries nowadays celebrate February 14, Valentine's Day.
But only Japan has developed its unique sequel - which falls exactly a month later on March 14 - called 'White Day'.
The signs of approaching White Day are everywhere in Tokyo already - in the confectionaries, the jewellery shops and lingerie shops.
Initially Valentine's Day too developed one unique feature in Japan - it was the only day on which Japanese women had the licence to confess their love.
Those days traditional behavioural canons were alive and kicking, which decreed that women should not take the initiative in love, but should keep waiting indefinitely for the object of their affection to declare his feelings (if any).
Valentine's Day was the only exception, and was much appreciated by women, for it gave them a chance to find out once and for all exactly where they stood with the men they fancied.
But the socially acceptable way of doing this was not simply blurting out one's feelings, but by sending chocolates to the person concerned and awaiting his response.
Of course nowadays women express their feelings much more freely, and they do so not only on Valentine's Day, but every day of the year.
Yet the chocolate tradition has survived, albeit in a mutated form. It has become now almost obligatory for a woman - the custom is called giri-choko (choko meaning chocolate in Japanese) - to send out boxes of chocolates to just about every acquaintance she values, specially her colleagues at work and her boss.
There is no implied message of secret longing in these boxes of chocolates any more.
Instead they have become a networking tool for women in the workforce, much the way sending out boxes of sweets at Diwali is for people in India.
The proprietress of a fashionable bar in Tokyo recently revealed in a magazine interview that she had spent 2 million yen (Rs 7.4 lakhs) on chocolates this year for Valentine's Day.
It is said that one quarter of Japan's entire annual chocolate production is consumed during the Valentine season.
So what is White Day?
This is the day on which men are expected to give 'return presents' to the women they got chocolates from a month ago.
It need not be chocolates - indeed, originally it was marshmallows, thus the name 'White Day'.
Nowadays the presents can be anything - from sweets to clothes to books. But if the man has any self respect, we women expect that the gifts he hands out will be more expensive than the ones he received!
Natto is a dish of sticky, fermented soyabeans, widely consumed in Japan with steamed rice. Early this year, we were surprised to find that natto had completely disappeared from the shelves of supermarkets. How did it happen?
It was all due to a popular TV show on health and beauty produced by the Kansai Telecasting Corporation (KTV).
The programme claimed people could lose weight without any effort if they stuck to a diet of a packet of nattos twice a day.
So many people rushed out and bought themselves nattos that there was a temporary shortage!
But a fortnight later, after an investigation, the weekly magazine Weekly Asahi raised serious questions about the veracity of the KTV show's claims.
KTV was forced to admit it had faked most of its data! The images of people who claimed to have benefited from a natto diet were found to be doctored, and the claims made by these people, fake!
Even the so called 'American scientist' who waxed eloquent on screen on the virtues of natto was found to be no expert at all!
People were furious, but this is not the first time we have been similarly misled. We have had similar programmes earlier too, extolling all kinds of things - vegetable gelatin, mandarin jelly, blueberries, bananas, cocoa and what not.
And people have believed them - though not to such an extent as this time. We have to learn to be less gullible. Natto is no doubt healthier food than fattening red meat, but it is no magic potion.
(The author is a staff writer with the news weekly AERA, published by the Asahi Shimbun group.)