March is the month of cherry blossoms, a time to admire the delicate whiteness of the flowering petals, reminders that life is both beautiful and short. It’s perhaps a very appropriate time in which to celebrate love, both ephemeral and eternal.
And that day — White Day — falls on March 14, exactly one month after Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s is traditionally celebrated in a slightly different way in Japan. February 14 is a day for women to present gifts to the men (and women) in their lives whom they value and cherish. White Day is a chance for the men to reciprocate that attention to the women.
White Day is a testament, perhaps, to the reciprocal nature of Japanese culture. Women in Japan will bake, buy and prepare chocolates for colleagues and friends (giri-choko, meaning ‘duty chocolate’) as well as for the man they love (hon-mei choko, meaning ‘true love chocolates’). It’s an opportunity for women to express their sentiments without words, and without losing face.
In the early days of the observance of White Day, men would buy women more expensive or valuable white chocolates, in what is known as sanbaigaeshi: a gift returned three times over. Nowadays, they also buy presents such as dark chocolate, flowers, perfume, and jewellery and clothes, returning a gift of greater value than what they received on Valentine’s Day.
White Day (and Valentine’s Day) are relatively recent introductions to Japan, but they’ve become firmly entrenched in the culture of gift-giving. The origins of White Day date back to the 1980s and an inaugural campaign to “Answer Love on White Day” (ai ni koateru White Day). Valentine’s Day is only a little older, predating the ritual by less than a decade.
Nowadays, it’s easy to get caught up in the bloom of Valentine’s and White Day, celebrating love and friendship with chocolates that are as delicious as they are fleeting.
Happy White Day!