White Day is celebrated every year on March 14 across Japan. It is the opposite of Valentine’s Day, where women give men chocolate. This kind of exchange is part of the Japanese culture. When you receive a gift, it is customary to give something back.
Its exact origin is uncertain, as there are three companies claiming to be the founder of that day.
The first company claiming to have started this day is a nationwide chain of confectionery stores called Fujiya. Among other confectioneries, they started to sell biscuits, marshmallows and candies in 1960, marketed as Return of Presents.
After that, they collaborated with another confectionery maker called Eiwa. Together, they advertised Return Valentine by selling marshmallows on 14 March 1973.
The second company claiming to be the source of White Day is Ishimuramanseido. The president of the company stumbled upon an article from a magazine for young women. There, it was written that young women wanted to receive at least marshmallows back for what they gave on Valentine’s Day. The company consequently made marshmallows wrapped with chocolate, and promoted it on 14 March 1978 as Marshmallow Day on the advice of the Iwata Department Store.
This event being a huge commercial hit, and in other for other companies to increase their sales as well, the Iwata Department Store decided to change the name of Marshmallow Day to White Day.
The last place to claim to have started White Day is the National Confectionery Industry Association (NCIA). As a way to promote a Gifting of Candy Day, they established White Day in 1978. Two years later, they started to make it a global event and promote it with the cooperation of the Mitsukoshi Department Stores and the national advertising company Dentsu.
The first reason why they established White Day on March 14 is because of Saint Valentine’s story. Priest Valentinus defied the order of Emperor Claudius by marrying couples in secrecy so that the husband wouldn’t have to go to war. He was therefore martyred on February 14, but the last couple he married still vowed eternal love one month later on March 14.
The other reason comes from the Kojiki, or Records of Ancient Matters, which is the oldest surviving chronicle in Japan. There, it is stated that the first candy was manufactured in Japan around March 14.
The NCIA chose the name White Day by reading an English-Japanese dictionary. The word “white” had the meaning of “sugar”, and “sweet” according to that dictionary. This was the perfect example for pure love and sweetness of young people, reason why they called this day White Day.
While its origin is uncertain, soon after it became a big event in Japan, it spread to other Asian countries such as South Korea, Singapore, and China.
As years passed, men didn’t only stop at giving chocolate and other sweets, but began to buy non-edible gifts such as lingerie or flowers to their romantic partner.
Romantic and obligation chocolate
Nowadays, White Day is seen as a social obligation. Men who receive chocolate on Valentine’s Day give chocolate or other confectioneries back to the women. This is called giri choco, or obligation chocolate.
This giri choco practice is not restricted to working adults, but also to students, usually starting around junior high school. It also gives the opportunity to use that day for romantic purposes.
Many Japanese tend to find this social obligation bothersome, and in recent years, companies such as Godiva have openly called out this social constraint by telling people they should buy confectioneries on that day for romantic purpose only. Yet, it is hard to free oneself from such cultural obligation, and while many would prefer not to get involved, few are able to stop this custom. And when one doesn’t give back, he will most likely not get Valentine’s Day chocolate the year after, and risks to upset the person, and also damage their relationship.
This practice isn’t always carried out in every company in Japan. Some companies even forbid employees from giving giri choco to each other.
And of course, married or dating couples give each other romantic presents willingly on White Day, if they chose to follow this custom.