TV & Radio
A salesperson displays a box of Chocolatier Antwerpen's chocolates at a department store ahead of Valentine's Day in Tokyo February 8, 2006. Makers of 60 premium chocolate brands have set up special booths at Takashimaya Co., a department store in central Tokyo, where boxes of chocolates costing as much as 10,000-20,000 yen ($84-$168) are selling briskly, helped by Japan's economic recovery. (Yuriko Nakao/Reuters)
Japanese women treat themselves on Valentine's Day
By Miho Yoshikawa
Mon Feb 13, 8:09 AM ET
TOKYO (Reuters) - It used to be Japanese women gave men a gift of chocolates on Valentine's Day.
These days, they're more likely to buy pricey chocolates costing up to $200 a box as a treat for themselves.
"It's a small luxury that I allow myself," said 39-year-old Reiko Nozawa, who usually buys champagne truffles for herself and a few other chocolates to share with her husband.
Nozawa is not alone.
Makers of 60 premium chocolate brands have set up special booths at Takashimaya Co., a department store in central Tokyo, where boxes of chocolates costing as much as 10,000-20,000 yen ($84-$168) are selling briskly, helped by Japan's economic recovery.
"There's been a trend the past two or three years for women to buy chocolates for themselves, as a sort of pat on the back for having worked hard," said Takashimaya spokeswoman Yoko Yanagisawa.
That can be on top of what they spend on others.
"I think I'll buy some premium chocolates for myself," said Yoshiko Okajima, a fashionably attired working mother, as she checked out chocolates for herself after spending 7,000 yen on her husband and 8-year-old son.
Tokyo is filled with Valentine Day chocolate ads in the days leading up to February 14, and some manufacturers rake in about 20-30 percent of their annual sales in a few short weeks.
Until recently, most Japanese women bought cellophane-wrapped sweets in bulk from drugstores to give to colleagues or school friends as an "obligatory chocolate" on Valentine's Day.
A month later on "White Day" men return the favor by giving women gifts -- usually sweets but sometimes lingerie.
Confectionary maker Morozoff Ltd. is widely credited with having introduced Valentine's Day to Japan in a 1936 advertisement for chocolates.
"If we'd been a florist, no doubt we would have tried to sell flowers," Morozoff spokesman Kazuo Kojima said.
Some two decades later, Mary Chocolate Co. Ltd. used Valentine's Day as a sales promotion for its chocolates, in what is generally believed to be the first such commercial endeavor. The company only sold three chocolate bars during the three-day event in February 1958. Total sales -- 150 yen.
Almost a half-century later, Japan's Valentine Day chocolate sales have blossomed into a 50-billion-yen market.
Upscale chocolate boutiques have sprouted all over Tokyo to cash in on increasingly sophisticated palates.
At Belgium-based Pierre Marcolini in Tokyo's trendy Ginza district a steady flow of customers peer at ribboned gift boxes in a glass display.
Customers are ushered in by a young woman whose task is to ensure the softly lighted, modest-sized store doesn't get too cramped.
"It is pretty expensive, but I think they are worth the price and I like them," said a 36-year-old junior high school teacher carrying a sweet-filled bag marked with the store's logo.
Such consumers are likely to help Japan's market for chocolate sweets, some 235,487 tons in 2004/05, and cocoa, roughly 56,634 tons, grow at a modest pace, said Kenji Kaminaga, executive director of the Chocolate & Cocoa Association of Japan.
"I think sales of premium chocolates are definitely helping to support the market," Kaminaga said.
Premium chocolates are often imported from countries like Belgium and France, with imports worth 36.8 billion yen in 2004/05, up about 36 percent from a decade ago, according to association estimates.
Chocolate aficionados are also beginning to favor high-quality sweets with a high cocoa content and complex tastes, achieved by blending bulk beans with prized flavor beans from countries like Venezuela and Ecuador.
The Japanese, however, are still modest chocolate consumers by global standards, swallowing about 4.85 pounds per person each year, compared to Switzerland's 24.9 pounds and Germany's 23.1 pounds.
Frist plans June vote on gay marriage
Aides say election-year push for constitutional ban likely to fail
From Ed Henry
Tuesday, February 14, 2006 Posted: 0017 GMT (0817 HKT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Monday he plans a vote in early June on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, a move likely to fail but sure to spark a fiery election-year debate.
Frist, a Tennessee Republican, told CNN he's planning the vote for the week of June 5 because he wants to deal with the issue "as early as possible" before the Senate calendar fills up in a busy election year.
Frist said he doesn't know how many votes the ban will receive, but Republican and Democratic aides privately acknowledged the vote will probably fall far short of the 67-vote supermajority needed to advance a constitutional amendment.
When the Senate last voted on the issue in July 2004, a procedural motion to consider the ban received 48 votes -- well short of the number needed to send it on to the House of Representatives and then to all 50 states for ratification.
A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, charged that Frist is wasting valuable time on the Senate floor in order to rally conservative voters in the midterm elections.
"At a time when we have so many other pressing issues facing the country, I'm not sure where this falls in the list of priorities," said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.
Frist has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2008, but a poll taken in December showed him trailing several other possible GOP nominees. (Full story)
Republican supporters of the constitutional ban insist they are not motivated by the politics of the issue and are solely focused on keeping the matter on the national agenda, hoping they can get closer to 67 votes over the next few years.
Achieving that goal, however, has been complicated by the fact that six Republicans -- including Sen. John McCain of Arizona -- voted against the ban in 2004.
President Bush has expressed support for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.
In last month's State of the Union address, he said many Americans are "discouraged by activist courts that try to redefine marriage."
The issue played a prominent role in the 2004 election campaign, with voters in 11 states considering amendments to state constitutions codifying marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution. The measures passed in each state.
In 2005, Texas voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment banning same-sex marriage. (Full story)
Ottawa's distance from Washington
The Japan Times: Feb. 14, 2006
A new administration led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party, which won the general election Jan. 23, has been inaugurated in Canada. The Conservatives have not held the reins of government since November 1993.
In Canada, where progressives had continued to rule through the Liberal Party, attention now is focused on what kind of conservative politics this 46-year-old prime minister will develop. During the election campaign Mr. Harper was criticized by his opponents as a neoconservative leaning toward Washington.
Political analysts attribute his victory partly to voters' weariness of the perceived "injustice" that had crept into the long-term administration of the Liberal Party, which had been promoting structural reforms. On any well-intended reform agenda, changes tend to bring not only gains but pain. As a result, reigning for a long period does not always work to the advantage of such a party come election time.
The situation is rather similar to Americans' turning against the so-called vested interests of big government and voting, in 1980, for the late President Ronald Reagan, who was criticized for being too far to the right.
Born in the eastern city of Toronto, Mr. Harper became a conservative after he moved to the western province of Alberta. Like Bush, he is an enthusiastic Protestant evangelical. The composition of the new prime minister's political base in Alberta is very similar to that of the western part of the United States. Mr. Harper fought the election under the slogan of a "strong Canada."
The similarities with U.S. President George W. Bush are striking. Mr. Bush was born in the eastern state of Connecticut but built his base out West, in Texas, after he moved there with his father.
In Canada's general election, the Conservative Party did not gain seats in the major eastern cities of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, or in large cities on the Pacific coast, but won much support in smaller cities and rural districts.
Similarly, the Republican Party in the United States lost in New York and the large cities of California but won the election on the strength of its base in the South and West.
Mr. Harper is positive about participating in Washington's missile-defense plans, which the Liberal Party administration had rejected, and is critical of terms in the Kyoto Protocol aimed at slowing global warming. He is also thinking of abolishing a law that recognizes same-sex marriage.
It would seem, therefore, that Mr. Harper and Mr. Bush are like two peas in a pod. Indeed, Mr. Bush reportedly was delighted by the Canadian election result and phoned Mr. Harper to congratulate him. This was in stark contrast to the sentiments expressed by the previous Liberal prime minister, who rejected the dispatch of Canadian troops to the Iraq war and criticized the Bush administration in general.
However, it seems unlikely that relations between Canada and the U.S. will change as much as Mr. Bush hopes. For one thing, the Conservative Party, while making spectacular gains in the election, fell short of winning a majority. Thus forced to maneuver as a minority ruling party, it will have to compromise with the Liberals and other parties in order to implement its policies.
Mr. Harper has already demonstrated an ability to flexibly adjust his positions to reality. Learning lessons from the 2004 election in which the progressives criticized him for rightist views, Mr. Harper has steered the right-leaning Conservatives toward the center. Since the election victory last month, he has subtly revised some statements he made during the campaign.
Despite the similarities with Mr. Bush, Mr. Harper is being likened in Canada to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who overhauled a Labor Party that had been unable for a long time to take control of the government.
The slogan of "strong Canada" suggests that Mr. Harper will not simply kowtow to Washington. Indeed, he has responded firmly, for example, to the territorial question involving waters of the Arctic.
For Canada, which shares a border with the superpower to the south, dealing with the distance between Ottawa and Washington is a matter that concerns its very raison d'etre. The world is watching to see whether Mr. Harper can govern Canada without being pressured into doing the bidding of the United States, which is led by a president with the same conservative background and similar beliefs. It is not an issue to which Japan can be indifferent, either.