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Coping With White Day’s Emotional Toll in Japan

How To Surpass Disappointment

White Day in Japan isn't always what it's advertised.

Valentine’s Day is over and done with. That means those lucky men who got honmei (heartfelt) chocolates and gifts on February 14th have been diligently working away to make sure to repay the favor come March 14th, White Day in Japan. Right?

A purely commercial holiday that started in the 1970s in Japan and spawned similar celebrations across Asia, White Day in recent years has become a contentious holiday for women.

In terms of the giri (obligatory) chocolate side of things, White Day is easy enough. Many companies that celebrate Valentine’s will also have a similar event for White Day, where men are expected to give some sort of edible treat back. It’s a simple exchange, and so long as everyone keeps things friendly, then it’s not that big a deal. Those are gifts given from obligation—the giri in giri chocolate.

Honmei chocolates, on the other hand, are given to a romantic partner or someone you have a crush on. That’s where disappointment can stem from.

Honmei Hurts

Coping With White Day's Emotional Toll in Japan© Photo by iStock: masamasa3

A crush is not obligated to return your feelings or to acknowledge White Day. As stated in this year’s Valentine’s article, “a gracious gift is given without expectation of return.” While it may hurt, it’s better for your mental and emotional health to take the higher road and move on. Easier said than done, of course, but needs must.

Traditionally, men are expected to give back a gift worth three times the value of the Valentine’s gift.

In terms of White Day with a partner, however, things are more complicated. Traditionally, men are expected to give back a gift worth three times the value of the Valentine’s gift. Nowadays most women would be happy with a simple, thoughtful gesture, especially given the rising cost of living. But they’re often left without, which of course is not strictly an issue in Japan.

Thanks to social media posts and media coverage, news traveled around the globe of women waking up on Christmas morning to empty stockings, no presents under the tree or to presents that are either more work or meant for the giver instead. The magic of Christmas (or birthdays, et cetera) is often the result of a wife/mother making them special. Meanwhile, the husband/father sits there and reaps the rewards and thanks “without lifting a finger themselves” (Japanese woman, 40s).

The same is unfortunately true for White Day in Japan. What the media, advertisers and pop culture promote as being ‘normal’ is anything but. It’s often a letdown, or as mentioned in this White Day questions article, “annoying”, “a rip-off” and most damning of all “forgettable.”

Are we expecting too much?

True, some of the issue lies with the overly raised expectations that said media, advertisers and pop culture provide. However, the inability or unwillingness of a partner to remember you on a special occasion is a red flag.

When your partner celebrates Valentines and you forget White Day, you’re an [redacted]. A willfully ignorant one. You ignored all the ads everywhere, all the displays in stores, posts on social media, decided it wasn’t important and therefore not important to your partner” (Canadian woman, 40s).

The imbalance of emotional labor in a relationship is already something women struggle with. For many, being forgotten on a holiday, especially one created purely for people to celebrate them (yes, forced commercialism is a problem in itself), is beyond the pale.

Why should I care about dating anyone if I’ll be doing more work, spending more money and getting less than they do out of it? If I want something now, I work for it, I get it, I enjoy it. I don’t need a man for that” (Japanese woman, 20s).

My ex-husband stopped celebrating White Day after we got married. He was ‘too busy’ to get me anything. I had COVID on Valentine’s and couldn’t get out of bed but I was a [redacted] for not doing anything for him” (American woman, 30s).

Surpassing Disappointment

Marriage relationship misunderstanding problem© Photo by iStock: kieferpix

How do you deal with a romantic partner that leaves you lugging the emotional load?

The simplest answer and one that many love to immediately jump to, is to “dump that scumbag and find someone better” (British man, 30s).

If he can forget White Day, show him how forgettable he is too” (French woman, 20s).

When you’re no longer satisfied with your relationship, see no hope of recovery and would honestly be happier without that person, move on by all means. Especially if your partner’s lack of celebrating White Day makes you want to dump them—it was probably the final straw anyway.

It’s not always as easy as that though. Say, if you two are married.

The Larger Issues

Coping With White Day's Emotional Toll in Japan© Photo by iStock: Prostock-Studio

This White Day disappointment is likely representative of a larger issue in your relationship. In that case, you may want to approach the subject with your partner. Sitting down in a neutral location and talking about how you feel is never easy but a necessity. Even seemingly perfect marriages are works in progress. Issues should be addressed before they metastasize into something harder to deal with.

Letting negative emotions build up to the point of resentment is not healthy for you or the relationship. If your partner isn’t good at picking up on emotional cues, proper communication is vital. That being said, proper communication is hard to maintain. Couples often need to take a step back and find new ways to do this as a relationship grows and changes.

Issues should be addressed before they metastasize into something harder to deal with.

It’s a joint effort. Sometimes you’ll want to scream and throw things at him because he doesn’t get it. I’m sure my husband sometimes works late because he’s mad at me too. But once we’re calmer, we sit down and we talk. Then we move on” (American woman, 30s).

Suppose your White Day disappointment has you reconsidering your marriage. In that case, it might be time to sit down with an individual or couples counselor to discuss the situation in a healthy, safe way. A neutral third party may make all the difference.

Don’t let White Day defeat you or leave you down in the dumps. Happy White Day in Japan, everyone!

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