White Day is a romantic holiday celebrated in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. The holiday falls on March 14, one month exactly after Valentine’s Day. Tradition in these countries holds that women are supposed to give men romantic gifts on Valentine’s Day, while men are supposed to return the favor on White Day.
Valentine’s Day in parts of Asia has expanded beyond the Western version of the holiday. Instead of giving gifts to spouses or boyfriends, some women in Japan feel duty-bound to present gifts of chocolate to all male co-workers. The tradition is called giri-choco, combining the Japanese word for obligation with the common word for chocolate. Girls may also give honmei-choco, candy to loved ones, or tomo-choco, candy for friends.
In 1978, the Japanese National Confection Industry recommended that men return the favor on March 14th, not coincidentally boosting confection sales. The day was originally called Marshmallow Day, as Ishimura Manseido, a candy company, created marshmallow treats specifically as gifts for this new holiday. Other companies soon followed, specializing in white chocolate treats. The day eventually became referred to as White Day, although gifts of regular dark chocolate are now common.
Gifts given on this day often exceed the simple presents of Valentine’s Day. Presents to lovers and wives are supposed to be expensive, such as lingerie or jewelry. Men also conform to giri-choco, returning the favor to female co-workers out of obligation. This can occasionally lead to confusion, as romantic gifts can be mistaken for obligatory ones and vice-versa.
Some scorn is leveled at the celebration, as it is considered by some to be a purely commercial holiday. The confusing issues of obligation and romance are seen by some as a desperate attempt to boost chocolate sales. This has led some Japanese and Westerners to label White Day a “Hallmark Holiday,” using guilt and social obligation to boost sales of gift items.
In recent years, a new tradition has been created in Korea called Black Day. This is comparable the ironic American tradition of Singles Awareness Day, a holiday that bitterly mocks the prevalent romantic traditions of Valentine’s Day. Black Day is held on the 14th of April, one month after White Day. Traditionally, those who received no Valentine’s or White Day gifts gather in restaurants or at parties to eat noodles in black bean sauce.
White Day is a relatively new holiday, but seems to be quite popular throughout Japan. One informal survey of 13,000 Japanese citizens suggested that around 57% purchased or received gifts for the holiday. Three percent, or about 390 respondents, said that they gave or received between five and twenty gifts. Despite detractors, the holiday appears to be gaining more fans each year.