We’ve all heard of Valentine’s Day. On the 14th of February we give cards, gifts, and just generally show how we feel about that extra special person. Flash forward a month – 14th March- just a normal day right?! Wrong! If you live in Japan, South Korea, China, or other East Asian countries then this particular day might be quite important to you. Why, you ask? Well, I’m about to tell you.
White Day is a follow-up holiday to Valentine’s Day, and believe me it is VERY important. In East Asia, women gift chocolates to the men in their lives. Then a month later on White Day, all the men who received presents must return the gesture. The way that this is done is crucial, but we will get to that part in a bit.
History of White Day
White Day is actually quite a young celebration. A sweet-making company in Japan’s southern Fukuoka prefecture, called Ishimura Manseido claims to have invented the holiday in 1977. While reading a magazine an executive at the company was inspired to create ‘White Day’. It was inspired by one particular letter written by a woman:
“It’s not really fair that men get chocolate from women on Valentine’s Day but they don’t return the favour. Why don’t they give us something? A handkerchief, candy, even marshmallows…”
The exec reasoned that perhaps a holiday was needed so that men could express their gratitude to the women who had given them chocolate. He even crafted a new sweet to express that specific sentiment, which was marshmallow paste with a chocolate centre. So, in 1978 the first ever White Day was celebrated, under the name of Marshmallow Day (which unsurprisingly didn’t stick). By the 1980s the phenomenon of White Day had spread to Taiwan and South Korea.
How it works
It seems simple: girls give chocolate to men on Valentine’s Day; then, a month later the guy’s gift something back in return. Actually, in reality, it is a tad more complicated. There are actually two different types of chocolate that women give out on Valentine’s Day: “chocolate of love” (honmei-choco), or “courtesy chocolate” (giri-choco). These are two very different gifts. The former is given to someone she has a romantic feeling for. The latter is given to someone who is a friend – there are no romantic feelings involved.
White chocolate indicates that she sees you as a friend. White sweets indicate that she is romantically interested in you. Whereas a handmade chocolate indicates that she sees you as the one.
It is therefore important to return gifts in an appropriate way. If the guy also has romantic feelings for the woman then a thoughtful and valuable gift should be given back. Sometimes, the term sanbai gaeshi, meaning ‘triple the return’ is a generally recited rule for men, that the return gift should be two/three times the worth of the Valentine’s Day gift.
If the guy doesn’t share the same feelings, then a small gift back with a note would be appropriate. It is also important that if you have been given a courtesy chocolate, to give something back in kind.
Decline in Recent Years
It would seem that White Day has declined in recent years. According to the Japan Anniversary Association, spending on White Day last year (2018) fell approximately 10% from 2017 from $530m to $475m. The reason seems to be a simple one – spending is also down when it comes to Valentine’s Day. If not as many people are buying gifts on Valentine’s day then there will be less people buying on the reciprocal gift-giving holiday.
So, there you have it! We now know a little bit more about White Day, why it is important, and also what the difference is between that and Valentine’s Day.