What is White Day in Japan?

Events

White Day is celebrated exactly a month after Valentine’s Day on March 14th.
It’s sometimes explained as reverse Valentine’s Day,  both holidays have copious amounts of chocolate in common, but what exactly is White Day? And what’s its relation to Valentine’s Day?

Valentine’s Day in Japan

Just like Christmas, Valentine’s Day is another Western holiday that made its way to Japan.
While the history of Valentine’s Day in the US and Europe goes back to a pagan festival that was celebrated almost 2000 years ago, the lover’s day is relatively new in Japan.
It was only in the 1950s when Valentine’s Day was first recognized by department stores in Japan. Influenced by American culture, a department store started selling heart shaped chocolates followed by a Valentine Sale, and other department stores that saw its success followed suit.

As Valentine’s Day gradually gained popularity over the years, Valentine related themes spread across shops and restaurants. Nowadays, chocolates and other presents are bought not only for lovers but also for bosses, co-workers, and friends.
But there is one big difference with the way Valentine’s Day is celebrated.

In Japan, it is the women who buy something for the men! How did it turn out this way?
As it was mainly ladies who shopped at leisure in department stores, the chocolates that were sold and bought were usually intended to be given to men. That sounds rather unfair, but the good news is that Japan has found a great way to fix that. Better known as White Day!

White Day in Japan

In the 1970s, a small sweets shop in Fukuoka cashed in on the idea that it wasn’t really fair that only men got to receive chocolates from women and not the other way around.
The owner of the shop read a letter in a women’s magazine where a reader lamented the fact that ladies don’t get anything in return for their Valentine’s chocolate gifts they give.
Japan is, after all, a culture that is quite serious about gifting as well as return-gifting (‘okaeshi’).
She said that she’d even be happy with getting a marshmallow.
After asking his female employees, the shop owner came up with the idea that March 14th, exactly one month after Valentine’s Day, would be the day that men would give women a gift in return.

So in essence, White Day became the ultimate okaeshi day as men are only required to buy a White Day gift for women they received something from on Valentine’s Day. The sweets shop owner created special sweets for the occasion which, of course, included marshmallows.

This is why the day was originally called ‘Marshmallow Day’, which was later turned into the more flexible ‘White Day’ while still referring to the white color of marshmallows.

Different Kinds of Chocolate

There is a huge variety of chocolate gifts ranging from affordable to expensive.
Of course, if you are in a relationship in Japan, you should give something to your partner on either Valentine’s Day or White Day(otherwise your significant other might not be too happy).

Also if you have a secret crush and want to make sure that person knows about it, this is a good time to let them know. If you have the time and really want to show your love, you can make your own chocolates. But you can also buy the more expensive “honmei”, or true love/feelings chocolates that are only available around this time of year. Honmei chocolates are made with high-quality ingredients and are very pleasing to the eyes.
Naturally, they should come in a pretty arrangement that the shop can individually wrap for you.
The more affordable options are mainly for what is called ‘giri choco’, or ‘duty chocolate’. This is just how it sounds. The sad truth is that sometimes you have to give people in your life gifts because you want to keep a good relationship with them, not so much because you really feel like giving them something. Therefore giri choco is usually given to bosses, colleagues, and acquaintances. Furthermore, single girls tend to give their female friends chocolate gifts to show their appreciation.

What to Give on White Day?

On White Day, there are in turn different presents to be given such as marshmallows, cookies and other sweets. Each comes with their own meaning.

Marshmallows

Marshmallows used to be a popular gift to give on White Day, though in the last decades its meaning changed significantly. Because marshmallows can melt and dissolve, they are seen as a sign of disliking. Probably something to avoid on White day.

Cookies   

When a girl receives cookies on White Day, she will most likely be disappointed; with cookies men say ‘you are just a friend’. 

Candy

The best gift to receive is candy, especially hard candy as it signifies that the boy likes the girl too. Candy is something that you can enjoy for a longer period of time.

marshmallow Love valentine's day

White Day Today

The White Day tradition started in Japan and has spread to Taiwan and South Korea where many components of Japanese popular culture have caught on over the past decades.

While both Valentine’s Day and White Day have lost some popularity recently due to the fact that it seems like yet another thing to do created by the younger generations, the tradition is still very much alive and the shops still overflow with sweets come February and March.

Not just chocolate, but presents such as shirts, neckties and other handy items are also bought and given as gifts, but it is still sweets that are the majority. Companies are always looking for the next ‘big hit’, and lately pudding has also appeared on the must get item list for men looking to impress their lady on White Day.

If they have to stand in a long line to acquire the gift, it is even better, as it shows that they are willing to make the effort. Will you be in Japan around March 14th?
Make sure to go to a large department store in a neighborhood like Ginza in Tokyo to check out the beautiful and tasty treats that are on sale for the lovestruck people!

Traveling in Japan

Do you enjoy hearing stories about popular culture and daily life when you travel internationally? In that case, you will likely enjoy having a private local guide showing you around their city while telling you all about history, culture, and life in that city. We offer private tours by experienced guides who love sharing stories with you in several cities in Japan. Whether you go to Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, or elsewhere, we have got you covered. Also for special experiences such as food focused tours, or a tour to the currently recovering Fukushima disaster area, we have you covered. Don’t forget to book a day with one of our guides before you head to Japan. It will surely be one of the highlights of your trip!

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Stefanie Akkerman moved from the Netherlands to Japan in 2013 with her Japanese husband and son. She jumped into the niche of Dutch tour guiding in Tokyo and Kamakura in 2015 and occasionally writes articles about all the great sights and activities Japan has to offer. She loves (Japanese) food, and to work that all off she goes diving, snorkeling, cycling, or hiking.

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