“If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love.” ~ Maya Angelou
“White Day” (ホワイトデー Howaito Dē) is a day for Asian men to show their affections for the special females in their lives, celebrated in Japan and some other Asian countries (South Korea, China and Taiwan) one month after Valentine’s Day on March 14th. White Day has clearly become a very popular day in Japan; more than half of Japan’s annual chocolate sales happen between late February and mid-March when “White Day” occurs. White Day was created in Japan (unsurprisingly by their National Confectionery Industry Association) around 1980 to, uhm, help “soften the guilt” of males who received VD chocolates from one or more ladies. Exactly one month after Valentine’s Day, men who were lucky enough to receive sugar-infused foodstuffs are given the chance to return the favor, and then some. In a sexist twist that seems to have not been lost in translation between West and East, the expectation for these return gifts is to be of higher value than those purchased by women!
Valentine’s Day in Japan takes an interesting turn away from that of the West: women traditionally do all the giving on February 14th (see my blog here for our Valentine’s Day this year in Japan). When chocolate companies originally started pushing the Western idea of VD in Japan, they focused on women as sole givers. At the time, Japanese women were quite conservative in voicing affections, so the rather novel idea of surrogate chocolates was immediately and widely embraced.
So, here on Okinawa, Valentine’s Day is typically observed by girls and women presenting chocolate gifts to boys or men as an expression of love, courtesy, or sometimes social or workplace obligation. On White Day, the reverse happens: men who received a honmei-choco (本命チョコ, “chocolate of love”) or giri-choco (義理チョコ, “courtesy chocolate”) on Valentine’s Day are expected to return the favor by giving gifts on March 14th.
Traditionally, popular White Day gifts include specialized cookies, white chocolate, and chocolates, as well as objects of sentimental value, such as jewelry or white lingerie. However, in very Western custom, men are held to a different standard, literally, sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し, “triple the return”). In other words, a man’s return gift to a female should be two to three times the worth of the original Valentine’s gift!
I’m never one to skimp on spending, especially when lingerie is involved. Much to my chagrin, there just aren’t the lingerie sizes available in Japan to fit a very healthy curvaceous triple-D shaped woman like my Jody. Believe me, I have looked and searched, and while the Japanese can come close (see a fellow blogger’s related trials and tribulations here), bras simply aren’t like hand grenades and horseshoes, and “close” isn’t good enough. Jody will just have to settle for a form-fitting wetsuit instead, an Okinawan-equivalent of lingerie for diehard scuba divers.
Taking a few trips to the main department stores on Okinawa (Jusco and San A), I found a wide array of gifts devoted to White Day. In fact, there was so much floor space devoted to such gifting, that I soon found myself overwhelmed, and ended up spending quite a bit of time culling down my selections so that I didn’t appear to go too over the top (although spoiling Jody is part of my agenda). The chocolate sets that the Japanese offer are works of art unto themselves, while some of the themes are quite relevant, like Mount Fuji candies where we will climb next year and a candy-filled JR train reminiscent of our Kyoto adventures this past January. The best thing about shopping for these sets is that the stores all have a display area where shoppers can examine the sets’ contents. While this helps negate the thorny issues of translation (what exactly is that candy and what is it made from?), there is still a healthy amount of adventuresome guesswork in ultimate selections. And an equal amount sometimes in trying the items brought home! Oh, and don’t forget about the on-site customized gift-wrapping services which any Christmas-time Macy’s back home would be envious of.
In my opinion, having two different days dedicated to male-female gift-giving seems to make a lot more sense. Yes yes, if you’re overly cynical, the split is really just all about sales, money and big business. However, being a little more familiar with the Japanese psyche, I do believe that men did in essence “need” their own gift-giving day; the Japanese are much more socially endeared in ways that most Western societies may not be. I for one enjoyed having a day for Jody to spoil me, and I certainly enjoyed my time planning, shopping, and spoiling her back, at triple the return!
Oh, and the smiles included and incited by White Day? All free and given freely…to the one I Love.