I remember in elementary school we used to decorate Valentines boxes that we would then hang on our desks or by our lockers. Kids would make cards, or normally just write a name on the back of a store-bought card and slip it into the boxes of other students. Our teacher would always urge us to be fair and give cards to EVERYBODY in the class, but there seemed to always be one or two boys who didn't get anything. The rest of us would sit there with our cards, often from box sets with cutesy illustrations and some sort of bad pun or the line "Be my Valentine."
Outside of elementary school, Valentines Day seemed to be about flowers and chocolates, and maybe a nice dinner in a romantic restaurant.
Valentines Day in Japan is another one of those Western traditions that has been adopted and... well... changed quite a bit in the process...
Here February 14th is a day for women to give chocolates to the men in their life. If there is a guy they like he gets preferably a homemade treat, although expensive store bought goodies will also do. Other men, men that the women do not like but feel they have to be nice to, get what are called "giri-choco" (literally duty-chocolate). These chocolates, as with any gift in Japanese society, must be reciprocated. The occasion for this reciprocation is March 14, "White Day," when men give women (white) chocolate or candy in return.
My host father in southern Japan is the principal of an elementary school. Every year he gets chocolates from various students and brings it home (he doesn't actually like chocolate, but makes a big fuss over every gift and the girls LOVE him). My host mother (who loves chocolate but hates the work involved with Valentines) then makes a list of all the girls who gave chocolate, with a guesstimate of how much they spent on the gift. Prior to White Day she will then go out and buy reciprocatory gifts which my host-father will endeavour to give to the girls who gave him chocolate - without singling them out (so as not to make the other kids jealous).
Two years ago, when I was teaching English my cousin visited me just before Valentines and we made a huge batch of peanut butter cups. I gave these out to students and co-workers and it was a big hit - many of the young Japanese guys who taught at the cram school were sooooo excited to be given home-made Valentines chocolates, it was really sweet! The trouble was I quit at the beginning of March - before White Day! Sigh.
This year I'm making peanut butter cups again. I started by melting the chocolate and peanut butter in a pan...
and then I spooned the mixture into heart-shaped foil cups...
and... ta da!
This year, the chocolates (one box of milk and one of dark)
got wrapped up real purty-like
and are going to be given to one particular guy. He isn't Japanese, however, so doesn't feel the need to wait until March. He didn't even wait until Valentines Day to take a page from my elementary school memories and ask me to be his Valentine!