You may feel like one Valentine's Day a year is enough, but Japan's confectionery industry thinks otherwise.
In addition to celebrating Valentine's Day on February 14th, Japan also has a second Valentine's Day on March 14th known as ‘White Day'.
What's the difference between Valentine's Day and White Day?
To put it simply, Valentine's Day in Japan is when women give gifts to men, and White Day is when men give gifts to women.
The holidays are not considered exclusively romantic and gifts may be given to range of people in your life, including co-workers, relatives and friends.
Read more about Valentine's Day in Japan and the various types of gift-giving here.
What is White Day in Japan?
The idea of White Day was first conceptualized in 1977 by a Fukuoka-based confectionery company looking to increase sales.
By this time, Valentine's Day had already started to permeate modern-day Japanese culture, yet businesses found that Valentine's Day was more popular with women, and it was they who were mostly purchasing gifts for men.
That year, the company marketed marshmallows to men as an “answer day” to Valentine's, calling it “Marshmallow Day.” This played very nicely to the reciprocal nature of Japanese society and culture. Give an unexpected gift to a Japanese person and see just how quickly a gift is returned!
While the concept was culturally fitting, the marshmallow idea didn't really take off. If women were going to wait a whole month for their gifts to be returned, a few marshmallows didn't seem to cut it.
Giving return gifts of 3 times the value
And so began the concept of sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し), literally “thrice the return,” used to describe the expectation that the White Day gift should be 2-3 times more expensive than the Valentine's one.
Of course, more businesses got on board with the prospect of increased profits and the first “White Day” was officially celebrated the following year in 1978.
Why is it called ‘White Day' and what gifts should you give?
The usage of the word ‘white' is said to be in reference to the holiday's marshmallow origins, as well as pure young love and the color of sugar in general.
That's why giving “white” gifts such as white chocolate is still popular today. However, the market is now wide open to any type of chocolate or confectionery. Other popular gifts include flowers, jewelry and lingerie.
Do I need to give a return gift for all the Valentine's I received?
Short answer: yes. At least if your priority is maintaining a smooth relationship with those who gave you the gift.
However, the “thrice the return” idea mostly only applies to honmei-choco (chocolates for your lover).
When it comes to giri-choco (obligation chocolates), returning something of equal or slightly higher value is generally accepted, as it is simply a courtesy gift after all.
Help! I received a Valentine's gift and I don't know what it means!
In most cases, hopefully the relationship between the giver and receiver is clear, which makes the intention behind the gift easy to comprehend.
But what if you receive a gift on Valentine's Day from someone whose relationship to you isn't so clearly defined? Perhaps a potential new love? Or maybe an unexpectedly nice gift from a friend who you hadn't thought of as a romantic interest before?
Is their gift a ‘giri choco' or ‘honmei choco'? And so begins a month of contemplation, or perhaps potential awkwardness, as one tries to decipher the intention behind the gift, and how they are going to respond on White Day.
Things get further complicated by the fact that many women these days make all of their Valentine's gifts themselves to save money. The act of making something by hand was formerly a distinguishing feature of honmei-choco – a sign that this person must be into you to put in the time and effort to make something from scratch. Now that line between different gift-giving categories can appear somewhat blurred.
In fact, Internet forums are hit up by men throughout Japan during this period to ask for help in determining the intention behind gifts received. Get it wrong, and it could end up being an embarrassing social situation.
What does your return gift say about you?
For those in relationships, returning something of equal value is said to be an indication that you are ending the relationship, and generally gives the sense that you are putting yourself in a position of power.
Giving marshmallows funnily enough, the candy that started it all, is said to be an insult and indicates that you don't wish to pursue the relationship.
So be careful gents, your candy present may say a whole lot more in Japan than you think!
How do gay people celebrate Valentine's Day and White Day in Japan?
You may be thinking that the whole idea of men and women's gift-giving in Japan to be a very outdated one, and you'd be right. Unfortunately, the premise and marketing behind Valentine's Day and White Day in Japan for the time being is still very much steeped in heterosexual (and sexist!) thinking.
Since giri-choco is only a social obligation, one's sexual orientation has no bearing on this gift-giving process, should you choose or feel pressured to participate. As honmei-choco is a personal gift with a romantic intention, couples or potential love interests, whatever their sexual orientation, can decide if, when or how they want to celebrate the holiday.
Lesbian couples may decide to exchange gifts on Valentine's Day or gay male couples may do the same on White Day. Or they may simply pick one day each and perhaps do away with the idea of one person giving a more expensive gift than the other (an idea which I think is outdated, period). Or they may just join much of the rest of the world in celebrating Valentine's Day only. Some gay people in Japan refer to the holidays as ‘Valentine's Gay' and ‘White Gay'.
So, what's your take on White Day? Love it, hate it? Do you celebrate Valentine's Day? Let us know in the comments section below!