White Day: Payback For Your Valentine’s Investment

Panic At The Department Store

You know it’s White Day when scores of panic stricken men storm the halls of department stores all across this nation in search of chocolate. But will you like what he gives you?

White Day, the unofficial and purely commercial sister holiday of Valentine’s Day in Japan, strategically falls on March 14 each year. It’s the day on which those lucky guys that were given gifts on Valentine’s Day a month earlier give gifts back to the women that may have slaved over their handmade treats for hours. It’s also a decisive day for couples — will your Japanese man choose the perfect gift for you? And will your relationship bloom along with the sakura or vanish with the plums? 

The Commercial Origins of White Day

Valentine’s Day came to Japan in the 1960s and has been celebrated in much the same way ever since, but it wasn’t until the late ’70s that men were clued in to the need to repay these sugary gifts with something of equal or greater value.

The National Confectionary Industry Association in Japan and Ishimura Manseido, a sweets company based out of Fukuoka, are said to have been the starting points of Marshmallow Day, or what eventually evolved into White Day. Yes, the original “it” gift was a marshmallow treat — and that is one of the reasons why it’s called White Day.

According to some older friends of mine who were living it up during the Bubble era, White Day changed from just being about sweets to giving jewelry — and particularly diamond engagement rings — on this day.

The National Confectionary Industry Association in Japan and Ishimura Manseido […], are said to have been the starting points of Marshmallow Day, or what eventually evolved into White Day.

What to Expect in Return

On White Day, men are expected to give a gift that is about sanbai gaeshi (tripled return) in value — something that is worth at least three times the value of the original gift they received on V-Day. Before you get excited though, this tends mainly to be the case when it comes to honmei choco only, so if you’re expecting anything fancy back on your giri choco, you might be in for a shock.

If you gave chocolates to your friends and family on Valentine’s, they will probably give you something back, and if you passed out treats at your company, expect the same. Some companies even hold small parties during lunch hour where bosses or even teams will pass out gifts to all the ladies in the office — it can be a lot of fun just to see your co-workers acting like teenagers all over again.

What about that special someone, though?

Well, if you’re still dating your Japanese man after Valentine’s Day, first: congratulations! You can expect something from him — be it a small, thoughtful gift, dinner or a movie date. Will it always be a nice gift? With men you never know.

A former co-worker of mine once spent ages making a very sumptuous dinner and chocolates for her beau, only to receive a box of half-off department store cookies in return. He was, apparently, too busy with work to do more than that, she said. (He could’ve stopped at a convini and still bought something better, right?) The worst part of the gift wasn’t the shock, though . She turned out to be allergic to the cookies and spent her evening in the ER — alone. The next day, she was healthy and single. She is now running her own company, so I think it worked out for the best in her case.

But if you’re just starting out in a relationship, your guy might not even know what to give you. You might find him bringing you some form of sweet and asking if you want to go out for dinner, go shopping or something similar. It’s not that he’s trying to appease you, he probably wants to get you something while you’re there, in order to make certain that you’ll like it. Is picking out your own gift romantic? Well, not exactly from a Western perspective, but to a Japanese man it’s somewhat normal.

A friend […] received a handwritten Classical-style Japanese poem from her now-husband, while another got a mix tape of love songs.

Japanese men — in my experience and according to the ones I’m friends with — want to make sure they are going to make you happy when starting out in a relationship. Once they know how things stand, and what you like, they will follow these guidelines to the best of their abilities.

In the photo above, you can see some of the gifts that I and my friends have gotten over the years for White Day. These are all items from different kinds of relationships: brand new ones, those under three years in length and marriages as well. (Bonus points if you can guess which is mine!)

What isn’t pictured with them, however, are the additional gifts, the things that came with the material item that their guys really spent time on. For instance, a friend of mine once received a handwritten Classical-style Japanese poem from her now-husband, while another got a mix tape (yes, a tape!) of love songs that came out when they started dating, ones that applied to their relationship and ended with a voice message saying he loved her. In the end, I guess, it’s all about creativity!

So whether you’re dating someone or not, you’re sure to get something in return on White Day — it’s how you feel about it that will really affect the situation. If you’re getting mixed signals, why not send me a message, either in the comments below or through Savvy Tokyo, and I’ll give you my take on the situation.

Happy White Day, ladies!

Originally from Niagara Falls, Canada, Hilary Keyes has lived in Tokyo for the past 10 years. A passionate renaissance woman, Hilary also works as a silver accessories and fashion designer, and dabbles in painting and bonsai maintenance. You can invariably find her wandering about Harajuku, Shimokitazawa and Koenji shopping and checking out the local color. As a single woman navigating the neon city lights, she's seen just about every incarnation of modern dating, both good and bad, and has the low-down on how sisters are doing it for themselves these days.

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