Let’s get Festive: A Look Inside Japanese Valentine’s Day and White Day

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You know about Valentine's day, but what do you know about White Day?

If anime has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is more stressful than the horrible unknown of confessing your love to a crush. Fortunately, in Japan, there’s not one, but two nationally recognized holidays to do it! Japanese holidays are some of the most diverse and unique in the world – one to recognize children, one for the ocean, and even one for dolls – so it’s no surprise they take a couple to celebrate that tingly feeling called love. *cue cheesy Paris-inspired instrumentals*

Valentine's Day Rakkuma Chocolate Gifts

It’s not as simple as giving a card with a small candy in Japan

Valentine’s Day in Japan takes the charming February 14th tradition we all know, and spins it into a day encouraging girls and women to gift the men in their lives chocolate, treats, and presents in order to show their affections. Depending on the receiver, there are two types of these sweet treats – Giri-choco and Honmei-choco. Giri-choco means “obligation chocolate”, and is given to close male friends, coworkers, and family, as dictated by social obligation.

The second type, Honmei-choco, is given to boyfriends and husbands as a more profound token of love. The latter is oftentimes home-made (ahh, sweet love… the best ingredient), but department stores all across Japan fully stock their shelves in preparation for the commercial holiday. In fact, this is how the custom started in the first place. Since women were the primary demographic frequenting these stores, corporate Japan decided to capitalize on the opportunity and consequently the holiday was born.

Furthermore, these beginnings were amidst the Women’s Liberation Movement in America, or commonly known as the feminist movement, during the late 1960’s, which prompted the idea in Eastern countries that women should take more initiative in their relationships since showing affection was, and still is, not customary in Japan.

You can see depictions of this sweet tradition in Anime

Valentine's Day Pikachu Chocolate Gifts

We see these traditions demonstrated in a myriad of anime titles, including Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, xxxHolic, and even Yu-Gi-Oh!. During Fruits Basket Episode 11 “Everybody Loves Chocolate”, we see an example of Giri-choco when the main character, Tohru, hands out chocolates to all her friends, even including the girls. Seeing this is both adorable and intriguing. The boys seem to accept their gifts differently based on the giver, appearing more eager to eat chocolate from certain girls than others. Of course, Yuki is more than willing to eat Tohru’s chocolate (what a stand-up guy), while Kyo is more hesitant to participate in something he believes to be so saccharine and girly.

The episode even goes on to explain that some girls – more catty in character – might throw out existing chocolates they find on boys’ desks to better their chance of attention with their own (and okay, personally, I believe the disposing of perfectly good chocolate IS A SIN and should be punishable… but hey whatevs).

Today, it’s not surprising to know that some women love this custom, while others hate it. The day gives an excuse for those too embarrassed or shy to express their feelings to a crush and can be an extremely empowering occasion. Or for wives too nervous to express, “I love you” on a daily basis – this is their yearly chance. But for some, the day can be just a huge pain in the rear. It’s going to cost them money, time, or both, and some even opt out completely and lay low for 24 hours, especially if they don’t even like their co-workers or classmates. But all in all, it’s recorded that ~67% women participate every year, and that’s pretty sweet.

Chocolates and Marshmallows?

But hold on boys, it’s not all fun and games: commence White Day. Exactly one month later, the men are expected to return the favor to the women (often with the unspoken expectation of two to three times the price of their Valentine’s offering) in the form of more goodies and gifts.

You can learn the origin story about White Day on the Ishimuramanseido website
You can learn the origin story about White Day on the Ishimuramanseido website | Image Source

If anyone’s wondering, the term white originated from marshmallows. No, really. A campaign commissioned by marshmallow company Ishimuramanseido advertised their pillow snacks as the perfect post-Valentine’s gift and the day was forever painted white. Other popular gifts can include white chocolate, lingerie, and jewelry – depending on the relationship with the receiver, of course.

Free! characters with gifts on White Day

White Day isn’t expressed as freely in Japanese pop culture or anime as Valentine’s Day is – maybe because it’s a little taboo or not a popularly anticipated holiday for Japanese men. But in any case, what first comes to mind is this key art image of the Free! boys, with Rin holding a bouquet of white(!) roses and Haru.. well Haru holding out a diamond ring (that escalated quickly). It’s not that hard to conclude that White Day may have been the inspiration behind the image, as an audience of fujoshi would be quick to fantasize about a gaggle of hot swimming boys offering them gifts of white, hot love. *tee-hee*

Okay, so we’ve uncovered that both Valentine’s Day and White Day are gimmicky “Hallmark Holidays”, but hey, that doesn’t mean they can’t be fun. What’s your opinion on Japanese Valentine’s Day and White Day? No matter how small the gesture, it can be a liberating and rewarding thing. Just please, whatever you decide to give this year, leave the SHIMONETA Love Nectar Cookies to Anna. Nobody wants those.

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Michele Sontag

Graphic Designer by day – aspiring writer by night. Currently doing design things at Rooster Teeth (#teamRWBY!) and formerly at Funimation. I have a love for all things tattoos, creativity, and individuality, and have 3 husbandos.. because life's too short. Come say hi on my social channels! (≧◡≦)

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