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March 14 Is White Day. What to Know About Japan’s Gift-Giving Follow-Up to Valentine’s Day

4 minute read

In the U.S., where dates are written month-first, March 14, or 3.14, is celebrated by mathematics enthusiasts as Pi Day.

But for romantics, especially in Asia, it’s another holiday that marks a different kind of full-circle moment.

White Day, which takes place exactly one month later, is seen as a sequel to Valentine’s Day. In Japan, where it’s believed to have originated, White Day is meant to be a day for lovers (typically men) to give gifts (typically chocolates or sweets) to their partners (typically women) who previously gave them gifts on Valentine’s Day, as a gesture of reciprocation.

Here’s what to know about White Day.

How did White Day begin?

There are two main theories surrounding the origins of White Day in Japan, both involving the schemes of Big Confectionery. According to the first theory, the Japanese candy industry spotted a business opportunity in the way Valentine’s Day is traditionally celebrated in the country: with women giving men chocolates. So in 1978, companies marketed White Day as an opportunity for men to respond in kind with a gift of their own.

Meanwhile, the second theory stems from a letter written to a women’s magazine in 1977 complaining about the lack of gifts received by women on Valentine’s Day: “Why don’t they give us something? A handkerchief, candy, even marshmallows…”

When the despondent letter was read by an executive at Ishimura Manseido, a confectionery store in Kyushu, it inspired him to sell chocolate-filled marshmallows meant as a reciprocating gift for March 14. (The holiday was first named Marshmallow Day, before being renamed White Day the following year). 

Since then, White Day has gained popularity across Japan and among its East Asian neighbors, including China, Taiwan, and South Korea, with some noting that the idea of matching Valentine’s Day chocolates also reflects the region’s broader culture of reciprocating gifts.

How is White Day celebrated?

Like Valentine’s Day, White Day is a major commercial event. Unsurprisingly, white colored items are particularly popular, including marshmallows, white chocolate, and even lotions and jewelry. 

In Japan, the term sanbai gaeshi (“triple the return,” a reference to the monetary value of the gift given in return) serves as a common rule of thumb for men trying to find a White Day present. 

However, White Day seems to be waning in popularity. The market size of the holiday, according to estimates by the Japan Anniversary Association, has shrunk from 73 billion yen ($494 million) in 2014 to 24 billion yen ($162 million) in 2021. 

Recent years have seen White Day—and the preceding Valentine’s Day—trigger a streak of resentment among consumers who are starting to tire of the tradition that requires relentless shopping.

“I’m fed up with being told that I need to buy chocolates or something else for my wife for a made-up celebration that really is just a marketing campaign,” a 54-year-old Tokyo businessman told the South China Morning Post this year. And a survey of Japanese women last year showed that most, regardless of age, are similarly reluctant to buy the conventional giri choco (literally “obligation chocolates”) for their partners or acquaintances on Valentine’s Day.

In South Korea, which shares similar gift-giving traditions with Japan on Valentine’s Day and White Day, yet another month brings Black Day, when, on April 14, singles—or people who haven’t received any gifts in the months prior—don black clothes and eat the comfort food jjajangmyeon, a popular black bean paste noodle dish. It’s also, according to Smithsonian Magazine, typically accompanied by a spike in sales for black coffee and matchmaking services.

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