Celebrating White Day

 

A White Day display of Minne Mouse-themed cookies and chocolates (all photos courtesy Joanna Tocher)

by Joanna Tocher

If Valentine’s Day is a manufactured holiday then what on Earth does that make White Day? Hyper manufactured? A spin-off of a fake? Valentine’s Day in Japan is basically split in two: on Valentine’s Day girls give chocolate to boys, and on White Day, one month later, boys are supposed to return the favour by giving chocolates or other gifts to the girls who gave them presents in February.

White Day comes with no saintly connections and was founded in Japan in 1978 by the National Confectionery Industry Association. It is also celebrated in South Korea, China, and Taiwan. Initially, the deal was that men were supposed to buy white gifts such as white chocolate, marshmallows, or lingerie, but this has become less and less important and today people buy white and dark chocolate or other sweets and gifts.

Shops tend to wheel out a lot of the same goods for White Day, but they leave out the chocolate and cake making equipment because apparently that stuff is just for girls… If White Day is going to stick around then this is something I’d love to see change. If girls are going to spend hours baking intricate cookies and chocolates then why can’t boys do the same? Instead, White Day shoppers are encouraged to buy more cakes, chocolates, and cute character goods. There are perhaps a few more white chocolate products available, you know, just for the sake of tradition. I also noticed that several konbinihave started stocking white chocolate Kit Kats again, which I assume is in connection with the festivities.

For the Disney princess in your life who prefers her White Day goodies by the bucket-load…

I asked a few people what they though about White Day and the general consensus seems to be that it’s all a bit silly really! One married friend says, “Honestly, I think White Day is just another ploy by the card, chocolate, and confectionery companies to make a profit. That being said, I will not complain if I get chocolate out of the deal on White Day.” It’s a sentiment shared by other Westerners I quizzed on the subject. “People don’t actually buy chocolate because they love each other,” says a single friend. “They do it because of the social pressure. It’s expected on the day, so those who are in a relationship HAVE to buy something otherwise their ‘love’ will be questioned.”

This is something I can definitely identify with. I hate the idea that there are specific ways we’re supposed to show our love, and that we should do whatever the shops tell us to do to prove how much we care. Having said that I’ve never really felt pressured into getting my boyfriend anything particular for Valentine’s Day, and I tend to buy or make things because I think it’s fun. I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t receive traditional gifts such as teddy bears, chocolates, or heart-shaped balloons. Although, if I’m honest, I might actually be a bit miffed if I got nothing at all, so perhaps I do care just a little!

So what do Japanese people make of this homegrown event? Most seem far less upset about it than the Western friends I asked, but this may have something to do with familiarity. “We don’t care about it. We give chocolate to female friends on Valentine’s Day so we don’t think about White Day,” said one Japanese girl. This kind of sentiment seems to be shared by many younger girls. “Some years it’s good, some years it’s bad,” quipped one of my Japanese friends. I guess being single makes it seem even worse, as another friend pointed out. “It also sucks to be single on the day because there is some expectation – will I get some chocolate or not? Am I loved or not?” That’s not to say couples are any fonder of the holiday. Another married friend confessed, “To be completely honest, though, I neither like White Day nor Valentine’s Day.”

Some more expensive White Day chocolates with a “tea and cake” theme

If this all makes Westerners sound like the most unromantic bunch of pessimists in the world, let me just add that I think what’s problematic is just how blatant White Day is. Valentine’s Day, while manufactured, at least tries to have some kind of meaning behind it, whereas White Day is nakedly commercial and has never been anything else.

It’s true, chocolates don’t prove love, but I just can’t seem to get too worked up about it. I don’t think it’s an amazing day or a particularly meaningful day, but I don’t hate it either. So if you feel riled up walking past the White Day displays then just keep going. Then again, if you suddenly change your mind and decide you want to buy something after all, but the shops are shut, the konbini will always be there to fulfill your last minute gift needs.

One comment

  • Thanks for the article. It raises a lot of good questions and the interview responses are very revealing.

    I agree, it feels pretty rigid and cold when giri (duty/obligation) is in place of true kindness, respect and/or love. If you give a gift because you have to, it definitely doesn’t have the same meaning as when you want to give a gift.

    I like how you started off explaining White Day as “spin-off of a fake”. I agree and yet am myself a little confused. From an outsider’s viewpoint, the White Day rituals seem very much like “naked commercialism”. But, a ritual being once commercialized doesn’t mean it’s necessarily done without heart. Doesn’t the invention of engagement rings mirror this commercialism? Refering to my friend Wikipedia, we find that:

    “The idea that a man should spend two to three months’ personal wages for an engagement ring originated from De Beers marketing materials in the early 20th century, in an effort to increase the sale of diamonds. In 2007, the average cost of an engagement ring in USA as reported by the industry was US$2,100.”

    Debeers single-handedly popularized the engagement ring into the obligation that it is today. Although, America is the land of individualism, the nakedly commercial idea is now (almost completely) disconnected from it’s commercial beginnings in the minds of Americans. (What about the two-month prior advertisements for Christmas, a holiday for family, love and happiness.)

    In the same way, I’m sure there is a good chunk of Japan that doesn’t sign-off White Day as “never having been anything else” but a materialistic waste.