In most countries, the practice of Valentine’s Day begins and ends on February 14th. However, for many Japanese men, it’s just the first half of the romantic holiday. These men are expected to return the favor exactly one month later, on March 14th – White Day.
In Japan, White Day was proceeded by Valentine’s Day, which was first introduced to Japan by the Morozoff Ltd. candy company in 1936. The Morozoff executive who first introduced the holiday to the company mistakenly thought that the traditional Valentine’s Day custom of gifting chocolates entailed women giving them to men instead of the more-customary view of chocolate-giving as a male obligation. Regardless, the day became popular with Japanese consumers. Chocolate sales in Japan related to Valentine’s Day slowly increased alongside marketing for the holiday, and in the early 1960’s, sales skyrocketed.
Japanese confectioners recognized an opportunity to establish a similar market for men. In 1978, a Japanese marshmallow manufacturer in Fukuoka City, Ishimura Manseido, tried just this, creating a new holiday that encouraged Japanese males to present お返し (okaeshi), or return gifts, to the women who had given them Valentine’s. The company chose to feature marshmallows as the choice “return” sweet for women on this holiday and marketed the event as Marshmallow Day. Although the company failed to popularize the fledgling holiday, its efforts would soon inspire a new celebration similarly focused on Japanese men giving gifts to women in return.
In the early 1980s, following the failure of Marshmallow Day, Japan’s National Confectionary Industry Association took advantage of this and began marketing 愛に応えるホワイトデー (“White Day for Answering Love”) – a Japanese holiday targeted towards men who had received chocolates from women during Valentine’s Day. Eventually, the day became known as ホワイトデー (“White Day”). On White Day, Japanese men are expected to follow the principle of 三倍返し (sanbai gaeshi), or presenting return gifts thrice the value of what they were given by women on Valentine’s Day.
Today, White Day is celebrated in China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Both Valentine’s Day and White Day continue to serve as major business days in Japan, contributing to over half of Japanese chocolatiers’ total annual sales of around $5 billion. Valentine’s Day and White Day have even spawned a new holiday for spurned singles in South Korea, known as Black Day. On Black Day, singles and people who did not receive gifts on the other two days gather together in black garb and console one another while eating black-colored foods, including Jajangmyeon – a Korea-Chinese noodle dish topped in black bean sauce.
The most important aspect of White Day is the color itself. No matter what you give, be it cookies, cakes, jewelry, or lingerie, it is imperative that gifts are white, since in Japan, white symbolizes love, purity, and sugar. So this White Day, be sure to share all three with your loved ones!