March 10, 2010

White Day

Every February 14th is one of the best, and sometimes not the best, day for a lot of people in the States. Of course we all know it as Valentine's Day. But here in Japan there is another holiday that is a reciprocate of Valentine's Day, and it is exactly one month later, on March 14th. It's called White Day. This will be the first time for a lot of people to read about White Day, but here in Japan it is everywhere, from the smallest convenience store to the most luxurious stores in Shinjuku.
In 1977, the confectionery company Ishimura Manseido, decided to start a new and very unique campaign towards the men of Japan, Marshmallow Day (マシュマロデー). This small attempt to sell more of their products to the public, would be the beginning to a very unique and now integral part of Japanese culture. Before it was even a year old in 1978, Marshmallow Day would be forever changed to White Day. And if your planning to marry a Japanese woman, this is possibly an important day to remember.
The National Confectionery Industry Association (全国飴菓子工業協同組合) in 1978, decided that Marshmallow Day could be so much more. So they set out to make a new “holiday” to be celebrated by all in Japan. The idea behind this new holiday was pretty simple, it would be the opposite of Valentine's Day. So it would be a day that men would give women gifts in response for the women giving them gifts for Valentine's Day. And, the original gifts to be given for this day were, of course, Marshmallows. So the name of this new day was changed to, White Day, for it is the color of Marshmallows. On March 14th 1978, the first ever White Day was celebrated and has been growing ever since.
This holiday has become integrated enough into Japanese culture to be marked on Japanese calendars, just like Valentine's Day is marked on American Calendars. Now at first glance this looks like another special day for men and women to really express their love to each other, just like Valentine's Day. It is and it isn't. The gifts received by men from women on Valentine's Day, may or may not be with romantic intentions. This applies to all ages, from the teenage years well into adulthood. There are usually just two different intentions behind the gift giving of Valentine's Day and White Day.
The first intention is, of course the most obvious, romantic. If a woman gives a man an expensive gift on February 14th, it is most likely with romantic intentions. And, the gifts are usually given anonymously, with the hopes that the man will figure out who sent him or left him the gift. But, a woman can also give an inexpensive gift on the same day, for a less obvious reason. This second reason is out of respect, or even as an obligation, because it is given to a co-worker, supervisor, or between best friends. So the man who receives one or more gifts needs to be able to do two things with them. One, figure out who sent you which gift (may not be as difficult as it seems) and second, decide what kind of message to send in return on White Day to the woman (or women) who sent him the gifts. Do you reciprocate the same feelings or will you just send a friend type gift ?
This exchange of gifts on Valentine's Day and White Day smooths relationships between coworkers and friends, giving an entertaining break from their busy and stressful jobs. This intent is understood and accepted in the Japanese workplace between employees and supervisors.
Originally as mentioned before White Day gifts were marketed as Marshmallows. But as the day has evolved, so has the gifts. Marshmallows can still be given, but chocolate is the number one gift given. Chocolates given with the intention of romance or love are called, honmei-choco (本命チョコ, "chocolate of love"). Chocolates given without the intention of romance are called, giri-choco (義理チョコ, "courtesy chocolate"). It's the price that separates these two intentions. Other gifts given are flowers, different types of specially wrapped candies, cookies, jewelery, white chocolate, or even white lingerie. Sometimes the term sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し, "thrice the return") is used to describe the general rule of thumb that the return gifts on White Day should be two to three times the cost of the Valentine's gift. Any of these gifts can be given as White Day gifts with either intentions. Even the lingerie can be given as an obligation gift and even in the workplace. Which would probably never be accepted in the States.
Now let's say, you have married your new Japanese wife and your living in the States while your reading this, and your thinking this doesn't apply to my relationship. You maybe right, and let's be honest ,this isn't even a real holiday. And is only celebrated in Asia. But to celebrate it in the States with your Japanese wife, shows more about your character to your wife than you might realize. First, any day of the year you can buy her a gift, whether it's expensive or not doesn't matter. “It's the thought that counts,” is a really true in any relationship in any culture. But to do it on a day that is special to her culture, and that has no significance to yours, shows that you care about not just her but you respect her culture. Just because a Japanese woman marries you and moves to the States, doesn't mean she is going to give up her identity. I know White Day isn't the most significant day over here to everyone but remembering the smaller and less significant aspects of her culture, will mean just as much and if not more, than just remembering something like her birthday.
So whether it's remembering White Day, or any other special day that is celebrated here and not in your country, is a simple but very powerful way of showing respect and love to the woman you have married or are going to marry.


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