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Ah, it is that time of year again where couple culture seems to soar through the roof and single people are scrambling to get a date or celebrate their single status. Oh yes, it is Valentine’s Day. And what does that mean? Well, in the west, it means couples are expected to go on elaborate dates and celebrate their coupling, but it is not the same in East Asia. How much do you know about it?
Well, in East Asia, Valentine’s Day is celebrated a bit differently with boys and men being the center of attention. Now, before you blast us on gender equality, there is a day where girls are the center of attention as well. That day is White Day. Now, not many of us in the west know of White Day, but in Japan, they go hand in hand. Now, which one is better? And are they both really necessary? Let us tell you how Japan celebrates couplehood and romance this late winter and early spring.
What Happens on Valentine’s Day?
For many of us in the west, Valentine’s Day is just a holiday celebrating your significant other with the emphasis usually on the female and spoiling her. However, that is not true in Japan and neighboring countries like Taiwan, South Korea, and China. No, Valentine’s Day is a different type of holiday all together in these countries and it all started with Japan.
The celebration of Valentine’s Day did not even begin in Japan until the 1950s when an advertisement was run for foreigners living in Japan. The Japanese then wanted to celebrate this interesting holiday after having seen the commercial. However, something was lost in translation somewhere and Japan got the idea that Valentine’s Day is all about women giving chocolates to men to show their affection. And thus, a new tradition was born in Japan.
Now, there is a bit more to Valentine’s Day than just that. Although the tradition is different in Japan, the holiday is still celebrated on the same date: February 14th. For many who do not have a romantic interest in a man, you are still expected to celebrate Valentine’s Day as well. This is a bit of a rude awakening for some foreigners who move to Japan and find that they are expected to participate in Valentine’s Day, whether or not they are interested. Imagine having to purchase or make chocolate for people with your meager earnings! Now that is an unwelcome Valentine’s Day surprise.
This expectation is due to the fact that there are two types of chocolate: giri and honmei. Giri chocolates are obligatory chocolates and they are given to important men in your life such as your father, your male coworkers, your male friends, etc. Giri chocolates are usually store bought chocolates, but some girls can hand make these chocolates, although there is usually minimal effort put into them (Like melting store bought chocolates and putting something extra in them). Then there are honmei chocolates, which translates into homemade chocolates. Homemade chocolates usually involve making the chocolates from scratch by melting chocolates and adding cream as well as other additions, then putting them into molds so they can harden into cute shapes like hearts, ribbons, etc. Honmei chocolates are considered more special due to the fact that they require much more work than giri chocolates. That is why, in anime, you always see boys asking if the chocolates given to them are honmei or not. What is more special than getting a product of someone’s love for Valentine’s Day when you feel more aware of your single status than ever?
Near Valentine’s Day, you can find specials on chocolates all over Japan in department stores and in subway shopping centers. Sometimes the chocolates are really fancy and can cost you $50 or more for something with pretty casing and intricate design, or you can pick something up from the local 100 yen store. And all those sales for chocolates in anime? You can actually see people lining up to buy chocolates up until Valentine’s Day. It is that important!
What is White Day?
Now that you know what Valentine’s Day is, what about White Day? White Day is a holiday celebrated exactly one month after Valentine’s Day on March 14th. Do not work your brain too hard to figure that date out, alright? So White Day is celebrated exactly one month later with the idea that it will be almost the opposite of what Valentine’s Day is in Japan.
What does that mean? Well, since Valentine’s Day is a day for girls to give chocolates to boys they like, White Day is a day for boys to reciprocate. This usually means that boys who receive chocolates from girls will return the favor with a sweet treat, although sometimes they may take the girls out on a date. Is that not the start of something special? The idea is that boys will reciprocate a girl’s affection. Boys are expected to return the favor for all the chocolates they have received, however usually, they give chocolate to everyone unless they have feelings for a girl. Then they might give something with more meaning. Also, it is rare for a boy to actually make honmei chocolate regardless of the occasion.
While it may seem like a fun way to reciprocate the feelings of a girl from Valentine’s Day (and putting pressure on the guy to be the one to confess his feelings first), the expectation that most have for people on White Day is not high. In fact, girls celebrate Valentine’s Day more so than boys White Day. So do not go into a Japanese Valentine’s Day to expect something on White Day. Statistically, you probably will not get anything in return.
Surprisingly enough, you may not even notice any White Day advertisements while walking around Japan unless you are really paying attention. They may sometimes fly right over your head, although as it nears the date, you are more prone to seeing advertisements for White Day chocolates, but let us get real, there are just not as many as Valentine’s Day.
White Day was implemented in 1978 as a way of returning the favor for Valentine’s Day because before, there was no protocol for it. The reason why it is called “White” Day is because a Fukuoka company had marketed White Day as a day in which men can give marshmallows to women, although this practice did not really catch on and so, men do not traditionally give women marshmallows on White Day, but the name did stick. White Day is also celebrated in China, South Korea, and Taiwan.
Do We Really Need Them Both?
Now, do we really need both a Valentine’s Day and a White Day? Western nations seem to get along fine without a White Day, right? Well, that may be true but usually, the expectation of Valentine’s Day is for the female to be spoiled, although there are some cases where the men are spoiled as well. Traditionally, though, and as shown in the media, women are expected to be doted upon. Is that really the right way?
Having both a Valentine’s Day and a White Day has allowed both boys and girls to spoil each other on different days with small gifts regardless of what their situations are. Yes, White Day may not be celebrated by as many as Valentine’s Day, but it does allow for some reciprocation so that one does not feel more pressured than the other.
However, how you celebrate your dating status is all on you and if you want to celebrate White Day, then do it! If you like how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the west, well, find a partner who likes to celebrate it the same way as you (please do not pressure your partner to spoil your ass). We all show our love in different ways, so how you show it is all up to you. Just make sure you show your love. We all like to be loved, don’t we?
So there is Valentine’s Day and there is White Day. Of course, let us not forget there are singles as well and as such, South Korea and China have implemented their own singles days on two different days. South Korea celebrates Singles Day on April 14th (a month after White Day), but it is dubbed Black Day where singles get together and eat black bean noodles. In China, Singles Day is celebrated on November 11th (11/11) and shopping is a pretty big deal on Singles Day. However, none of these days are celebrated outside of their own countries (especially not in Japan).
For many who are looking forward to Valentine’s Day (or just like Japanese culture), what do you think about how Japan celebrates Valentine’s Day? What about the inclusion of White Day? Do you think you might want to get in on that? Well, please share your thoughts below!