The Other Valentine's: A Look into Japan's White Day Celebration

  • 3 min read
The Other Valentine's: A Look into Japan's White Day Celebration

If Valentine’s Day is your kind of holiday, you may be excited to learn that in Japan, there exists a second version of that holiday known as White Day! It is often described as the reverse version of Valentine’s Day and is celebrated exactly a month later with all the same chocolate, flowers, and love.

“What’s the difference and what’s the point?” you may ask. To which the answer is rather simple (and kind of surprising)! 

Like Christmas and Halloween, some Western holidays have found their way into the Japanese culture. Valentine’s Day is also one of those holidays! Introduced to Japan in the 1950s alongside the rising influence of American culture, Valentine’s Day started when department stores began selling heart-shaped chocolates and holding Valentine’s sales.

The Other Valentine's: A Look into Japan's White Day Celebration

While these aspects might appear to be the same as they are in the States, there are a few differences with the way Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Japan. With the increase in Valentine-related gifts, products, and marketing, it’s quite common for people to buy gifts not only for their partners, but also for their coworkers, friends, and even bosses!

Another interesting distinction is that it’s the women in Japan who are expected to give gifts to men on Valentine’s Day, not the other way around. The reason for this is that initially Valentine’s chocolate and other related gifts were marketed towards women, the demographic who were most frequently visiting department stores in the 1950s and 60s.

This unfairness didn’t last long, however. In the 1970s, a sweets shop in Fukuoka responded to a letter in a women’s magazine who said she would be happy with even receiving a marshmallow in return! And so, White Day was born.

The Other Valentine's: A Look into Japan's White Day Celebration

While marshmallows were the original gift (and therefore the origin of the name of the holiday) you may want to be careful about whom you gift them to. That’s because White Day gifts have developed some hidden (or not so hidden) meanings over the years.

Marshmallows: Since they’re more likely to melt and dissolve, reserve these for someone you dislike.

Cookies: While most people would be happy to receive a cookie on any other day, some ladies might be disappointed to receive one on White Day. Cookies are usually seen as a sign that “you’re just a friend.”

Candy: A sign of affection, candy is usually meant for those one has a romantic interest in.

Other gifts: While a simple chocolate, candy, or marshmallow can secretly communicate one’s feelings, the idea that someone has spent a good deal of time waiting in a queue for a gift has become increasingly more meaningful, whether that gift is pudding, pastries, or even clothes!

Recently Valentine’s Day and White Day have seen a dip in popularity in Japan, but the cultural traditions that have made them uniquely Japanese still stand strong! After all, it makes sense. Considering that Japan has a long tradition of both gift-giving and 'okaeshi,' or return gift-giving, it’s no wonder that White Day was created.


About the author:

Kevin KilcoyneKevin Kilcoyne

The spark that lit Kevin Kilcoyne’s interest in Japanese culture began in elementary school through a friendship with his then classmate Keisuke. Since then, that passion has evolved and bloomed to encompass more than just video games and manga, leading Kevin to live in Japan as a participant of the JET program. During his time in Japan, Kevin sought out as many foods as he could, the experiences and taste memories lingering long after they had gone. Now he is forging a path to link his passions for Japanese food, history, and visual culture and is planning for his return to live in Japan once again. For now, you can find Kevin on Instagram (@waruishouten) where he posts his photography and illustration work. Keep an eye out for more posts and updates as Kevin delves more deeply into his passions for writing and food!

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