Mar 142016


Today is White Day (ホワイトデー Howaito Dē) in east Asia, falling one month after Valentine’s Day. It began as a marketing ploy in Japan because of a misunderstanding about how Valentine’s Day works in the West. When the Japanese began adopting Valentine’s Day as a celebration they took it as a day when women gave gifts to men (particularly of chocolate) and not the other way round. So manufacturers invented a day for men to reciprocate a month later.

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is typically observed by girls and women presenting chocolate gifts (either store-bought or handmade), usually to boys or men, as an expression of love, courtesy, or social obligation. On White Day, the reverse happens: men who received a honmei-choco (本命チョ, ‘chocolate of love’) or giri-choco (義理チョコ, ‘courtesy chocolate’) on Valentine’s Day are expected to return the favor by giving gifts. Traditionally, popular White Day gifts are cookies, jewelry, white chocolate, white lingerie, and marshmallows. Sometimes the term sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し, ‘triple the return’) is used to describe the generally recited rule that the return gift should be two to three times the worth of the Valentine’s gift. Very Japanese.


White Day was first celebrated in 1978 in Japan. It was started by the National Confectionery Industry Association as an “answer day” to Valentine’s Day on the grounds that men should pay back the women who gave them chocolate and other gifts on Valentine’s Day. In 1977, a Fukuoka-based confectionery company, Ishimuramanseido, marketed marshmallows to men on March 14, calling it Marshmallow Day (マシュマロデー Mashumaro Dē). Soon thereafter, confectionery companies jumped on the bandwagon and began marketing white chocolate. Now, men give both white and dark chocolate, as well as other edible and non-edible gifts, such as jewelry or objects of sentimental value, or white clothing like lingerie, to women from whom they received chocolate on Valentine’s Day one month earlier. If the chocolate given to him was giri choco, the man likewise may not be expressing actual romantic interest, but rather a social obligation.


Eventually, this practice spread to the neighboring East Asian countries of South Korea, China, and Taiwan. In those cultures, White Day is for the most part observed in the same manner. I’ll check in with my son later to see what he’s done. He lives in China and has a Chinese girlfriend. I know he did the standard Western thing on Valentine’s Day, but I expect he’ll do something today as well.

Me? I don’t live in China any more and don’t have a girlfriend. So I’m good. Furthermore, I don’t care for sweets in general, or white chocolate in particular, so I can’t be much help. This site should give you plenty of ideas: