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What is White Day? The Tradition of Gifting Japanese Chocolates

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White Day is celebrated in Japan every year on March 14. It can be summarized as a day when men give gifts and chocolates to the women in their life, but there’s a whole lot more meaning behind it.

To fully understand White Day (also written as ホワイトデー in Japanese), it’s important to take a look at a related celebration that takes place one month earlier, and understand the uniqueness of Valentine's Day in Japan. From there, we’ll talk about the history of both of these days in modern Japanese society, and also help you figure out the right gifts to give out if you want to celebrate things the Japanese way.

Valentine's Day in Japan has many different cultural meanins depedning on who is gifting chocolate and who is receiving

What is Valentine’s Day in Japan like?

Japan is known to celebrate certain holidays a little differently compared to more Western countries, and Valentine’s Day is no exception. Although the Japanese celebration retains the tradition of giving gifts on Valentine, the common practice is that it is only the girls or the women who give gifts or chocolate on Valentine’s Day. This might seem a little unusual especially if you’re from a country where both men and women give gifts to their partners on this day, but if you read on, it will all make sense in a little bit.

This tradition of women giving chocolates to men is actually practiced too in Japan’s neighboring countries, like South Korea and Taiwan. The main difference is that in Japan, there are actually different meanings for the kinds of Japanese chocolates that you give to someone, and here we’ll discuss the difference between each one.

Honmei choco is what you would normally think about when you think about Valentine’s Day. The name translates as “true feelings chocolate”. Based on that, you can guess that this type of chocolate is given by women to men that they have romantic feelings for, so this can be their boyfriend, husband, or even someone they have a crush on.

In Japan, it's common for women to gift chocolates to men

Giri choco translates as “obligation chocolate”. Giri choco is given by women to men that they don’t have romantic feelings for, but still want to be polite towards. Examples of this are male co-workers, bosses, or acquaintances. Related to this is the tomo choco, or “friend chocolate”. This again is for a man for whom you have no romantic feelings towards, but is someone who is closer to you compared to a co-worker or an acquaintance.

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There is also the jibun choco, which roughly translates to “chocolate for myself”. Women might buy Japanese chocolates on Valentine’s Day as a sort of treat or present for themselves. Last but not the least is the gyaku choco, or “reverse chocolate”. This is when a man gives chocolates to a woman. However, this is considered to be an uncommon practice since as we mentioned, the gift giver on Valentine’s Day in Japan is usually the woman.

Japanese chocolate has many different symbolic meanings according to who it's gifted to

What’s the history behind White Day in Japan?

Up until now, we’ve discussed all the different types of chocolates that women give to men, but what do the women get after all of this? This is where White Day — comes in exactly one month later — so that men can return the favor.

When it was first introduced to Japan in 1978, White Day was actually originally called “Marshmallow Day”. The reason for this is that it was coined by a confectionery company that wanted to promote their marshmallows as a means of gift-giving in Japan. 

Then two years later, the National Confectionary Industry Association of Japan came up with the name “White Day” because they wanted the day to be associated with “purity” and “happiness”. They encouraged men to reciprocate women’s efforts by giving them suggested gifts like Japanese chocolates and candy, and that relatively modern tradition continues to this day.

What should I know about White Day gifts and giving Japanese chocolates?

Just like the chocolate on Valentine’s Day, there are also different types and meanings when it comes to White Day gifts, so it’s important to consider this when picking out Japanese chocolates to give.

As a rule of thumb, giri choco from women tend to be inexpensive. This has a dual meaning of not wanting to put too much pressure on the receiver to spend too much when they return the favor during White Day, and also so that the receiver does not misinterpret the intentions behind the gift. 

With this in mind, when you are reciprocating a giri choco gift, you can give them the types of chocolates that you can buy in places like a convenience store or a supermarket. This can be something like Kit Kats or even chocolate sticks like Pocky or Fran. 

Japanese chocolates on display at a local convenience store

In addition, if you know a little bit about the person you’re giving it to and what their flavor preferences are, there are no rules against catering your gift around that. If she’s into sweeter chocolates, you can give her milk chocolate bars, and alternatively, if you know she’s a big green tea fan, you can give her something like green tea Kit Kats or Pockys.

If the gift is for a special someone and it falls under the “honmei choco”, the tradition is that women choose more expensive chocolate on Valentine’s Day, or they might even take the extra step and make the chocolate themselves. In this case, it will be considered a really sweet gesture if you try to make a chocolate for them as well, or if this isn’t possible, get them something from a chocolate specialty store or somewhere that’s more fancy.

More than just being a romantic day, White Day in Japan covers a much larger scale. It is essentially a day for celebrating and thanking the women in your life through these White Day gifts. We hope that this article gave you some insight on the best way to do just that.

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