Celebrate White Day in Japan With Sweet Gifts

Holidays aren’t always celebrated the same way throughout the globe. Christmas, for example, is seen by many as a wintry, chilly season when people go out and do activities in the snow together. In Australia, however, Christmas is associated with summer, so many people celebrate by going out to the beaches and having barbecues. Around the world, the stereotype for how to celebrate holidays are challenged, especially when compared to the “standard” way westerners celebrate it.

Take Valentine’s day. In the U.S.A, for instance, it’s a day where both men and women take time out to make their lovers feel special. This is done by either buying a gift for them or going out to do something special with them. In Japan, they do things a little differently.

How Valentine’s Day Works in Japan

In case you’re a modern-day non-Japanese woman on travel mode, and you find yourself in Tokyo or anywhere in Japan, don’t be taken aback if you don’t get a single gift from any man (even your own Japanese boyfriend) during Valentine’s Day, even if you’re dating someone. This is because, in Japan, women are the ones who give sweets to the men on February 14. These sweets usually chocolates and the kind of chocolate you give to the guy determines the kind of relationship you have with him, or want to be having with him.

To show just how much they love their boyfriends, women amp up the specialty of their chocolates by hand-crafting them. This comes from the idea that making their own chocolate for their loved ones makes it more heartfelt compared to simply buying them from any candy store. Then again, not only romantic lovers exchange gifts on this day. Friends, colleagues, basically any non-romantic relationship can partake in this too.

Returning the Favor On White Day

It would be unfair for just women to be giving all the gifts, right? So exactly a month later, the men return a gift (and sometimes triple the amount; “sanbai gaeshi” as suggested by the tradition) to the women who had bequeathed them chocolate on Valentine’s day. A little peculiar, perhaps – but that’s how these holidays are practiced in Japan. You’d be considered odd if you were a guy and you gave your girlfriend a gift on Valentine’s day.


By Flickr user mersy ( Masashi Yanagiya) (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mersy/4434400845/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Why Does It Work That Way in Japan?

Japan wasn’t always so open to the world. It only opened its doors to westernization during the Meiji Restoration, which was during 1868. Because they had been closed off 250 years, it took some time to adapt to the changes brought on by globalization. By the time it was the 1950’s, the world was following the trends set by the U.S., and other western countries. One of these trends was Valentine’s Day. Yet, not everyone was (and sometimes, is) open about giving and receiving affection aloud in Asian countries as people are in western countries.

Due to the differences in culture, what is acceptable in one country may not be so in the other. When women admit that they have feelings for a man, this was considered a bit taboo. The entire idea of a woman expressing her affections for a man can be found in their “kokuhaku” culture – and, as you can imagine, was bad for chocolate businesses. Something had to be done to reverse this notion of negativity being associated with giving chocolates on Valentine’s day, perhaps to liven things up a little, but the true motive was profit.

The History of White Day

Celebrating White Day is a very recent tradition born out of a marketing plan. It started in 1978, in Japan. When the National Confectionary Industry Association saw that they wanted to popularize the culture of giving sweets on Valentine’s day to gain profit, they encouraged women to see it as an exciting opportunity to confess their feelings for someone in an acceptable way, while they encouraged men to show the love back to women who gave them sweets by returning the favor with an even bigger gift on “Answer day”. “Answer day” which is what it was initially called, would soon turn into “White Day”.

Why “White Day”? And why a month later? This stemmed from inspiration from a confectionary company called “Ishimuramanseido” in Fukuoka advertised their marshmallows as a way for men to answer back for the gifts given to them on Valentine’s day. They picked March 14 – an exact month after February 14 – to be “Marshmallow Day”, or “Mashumaro Dē”, as the Japanese would call it. This trend picked up and caught fire, which beckoned other companies to ride on the marketing train.

Soon enough, other companies who sold sweets put their own spin on the romantic White Day, adding white chocolate to list of things that men should consider giving women, along with marshmallows. As with most intermingling of cultures, the Japanese added a hint of theirs on gift giving, such as the Japanese value of “Giri”. Yes – it gets even more complicated. Whereas in the west, you can buy any kind of chocolate and give it to your lover as a gift, in Japan, the kind of chocolate you give determines your relationship with the person you’re giving it to.

Is White Day Celebrated Only in Japan?

White Day may have started in Japan, but other countries have picked up on this holiday as well. Countries that observe this tradition on this day (aside from Japan – [ホワイトデー]) are China (白色情人節), Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea (화이트데이), Taiwan, and Vietnam (Ngày Trắng).

The Date of White Day in Japan This 2017

No matter what year it is, White Day will always fall on the 14th of March, JST (Japan Standard Time) exactly one month from February 14, Valentine’s Day. This 2017, March 14 falls on a Tuesday. Though the date has already passed, that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for White Day on 2018. Note that it doesn’t fall on a weekend next year, so if you live in Japan and plan to return the favor to a girl you expect to give you something, you may want to plan your gift in advance. Perhaps a nice dinner or gift that you’re sure will surpass the worth of the gift she’s going to give you. Or maybe it’s time to pop that question and save up for that diamond ring she’s always wanted.

Here Are Some Present Ideas for White Day in Japan

Chocolates, candies, and sweets are classics when it comes to returning gifts on this day. However, it is not restricted to that. You can also give stuffed toys, scented soap, candles, bags, jewelry, and even lingerie (for women you are already very romantically inclined with) as most women would enjoy these types of gifts. You may even take them out on a luxurious date, or get them something they’ve been eyeing for a long time, such as the latest gadget or perfume. Just make sure it’s a little more extravagant than what she gave you last valentine’s day.

What Did You Receive Last Valentine’s Day?

Then again, you can always resort to using the sweets option. If you insist on giving chocolates, make sure you give the right kind. This is highly dependent on what kind of sweets were given to you on Valentine’s day. Acknowledging this is crucial to making your next step.

Giri-choco, also known as “obligation chocolate”, is what a girl gives someone that she isn’t in a romantic relationship with. It isn’t necessarily an “obligation” as it so impersonally implies; it means that the girl is honoring the friendship, and is grateful for it. Giri-choco is mainly any kind of chocolate that aren’t too expensive. This is can be any basic box of chocolate or brand name. Under the Giri-choco is the subset cho-giri choco, which is kind of like a consolation prize – chocolates for men who don’t want to feel left out is a good way to put it.

Honmei-choco is chocolate that is extra special. This is usually very expensive, or was hand-made by the girl, and personalized to the taste or design of the man she loves. Honmei-choco is given by girl to a guy she is romantically interested in. As previously mentioned, Japanese women take the time to make their own chocolate just to make sure the recipient understands it’s honmei-choco. Businesses amp up their stocks and supplies of baking products just because of this.

Tomo-choco are chocolates that women give to each other on valentine’s day and sometimes consume with each other as well. This favor need not be returned on White Day, as it’s a present from a girl to another girl.

What Kind of Sweets Should One Give on White Day in Japan

Gyaku-Choco, which is defined as reverse chocolate, is what a man gives on White Day. This is the man’s chance to reply to the kind act he was given on Valentine’s day with his true feelings for the girl. This can be communicated through the kind of chocolate he gives back. So, if you’re a guy, and a girl gave you giri-choco, you can reply with either white chocolate, chocolate candy, or chocolate cookies.

Each of these sweets represents different a different reply. White chocolate expresses friendship, which is the most common gift to give a woman who gave you giri-choco. Now, if you got giri-choco from a girl but want to let her know you’re developing feelings for her, you can give her chocolate candy. For your established girlfriend or partner, chocolate cookies express unconditional love.

If you received honmei chocolate on Valentine’s day from a girl, you must think of how you want to reply – will you use White Day to return the same feelings, or will you lay her down gently with a box of white chocolate? That’s entirely up to you.

Should You Give Flowers During White Day in Japan?

You can give flowers during White Day, but give flowers that communicate the right symbols you want to convey. In Japan, flowers have a language; you can’t just give any random flower because they all have different meanings. To make it more meaningful, you can give her the kind of flower she likes the most, or study some hanakotoba (the language of Flowers in Japanese culture) and give her a Forget-Me-Not to tell her she’s your true love, or a Zinnia to promise her your loyalty. It’s best to combine this with some proper chocolate cookies or sweets to make it extra special for the girl.

How the Celebration of White Day Goes in Japan

Will you be spending February and March in Japan? Or do you just want to celebrate White Day for the sake of honoring a fun tradition, and making the girls in your life happy? Here are a few steps to guide you through properly celebrating White Day, for any reason you may have for wanting to celebrate it.

The first and most important step to celebrating White Day is jotting down all the women who gave you presents during Valentine’s Day. You really would not want to miss out on one girl accidentally (good luck on your survival if you do). If you’re the type of guy who is popular with the ladies, the next step is a little more difficult – shopping for the proper gyaku-choco to give on the 14th of March. If two or more girls give you honmei-choco, it would be proper to pick only one girl to confess your feelings for. You have an entire month to think of this, so think it through well.

Once you have your gift (or gifts) ready, spruce it up with a bit of customization. How far did your Valentine go for you? More importantly than trying to match up to the price, match up to the amount of thoughtfulness that went into her gift – and go beyond it. Don’t limit yourself to just one item, mix it up a bit – feel free to combine the different gifts, and you’re all set.