How Japanese Celebrate White Day
White Day comes around every year on March 14th, exactly one month after Valentine’s Day. It functions rather like a second Valentine’s Day, although it is a little less widely observed.
In Japan, February 14th gift-giving in consists of women giving gifts to men. And so on White Day women receive return gifts (okaeshi (お返し), which means “a return”) from the men to whom they gave Valentine’s Day presents. Along with Japan, quite a few other East Asian and Southeast Asian countries also celebrate White Day.
By happenstance, March 14th is also another romance-related day in Japan. Its called International Marriage Day (国際結婚の日、Kokusai Kekkon no Hi). International Marriage Day marks the date in 1873 on which marriage between a Japanese national and a foreigner was first legally allowed.
International Marriage Day is more of a historical note than a holiday. But the fact that it shares the 14th with White Day is an interesting coincidence.
Much like Valentine’s Day in Japan, White Day is more about gift-giving than it is about going out to dinner or having the “perfect date.” For one thing, because Valentine’s Day gifts are frequently given to men who are acquaintances as well as to boyfriends or spouses, White Day return gifts are often given to women who are friends or coworkers as well as to significant others or to those in whom one has romantic interest.
White Day Gift-Giving
Though many women spend a fair amount of money on Valentine’s Day in Japan, White Day gift-giving can be quite expensive indeed. According to some, a White Day gift ought to be two or even three times the cost of the received Valentine’s Day gift.
White Day gift-giving differs from Valentine’s Day gift-giving in that it does not revolve as much around chocolate and candy. Many men give jewelry, brand-name accessories, or clothing items rather than sweets.
In fact, some women prefer to receive non-edible items as return gifts. In the case of platonic “giri” (義理, “obligation”) White Day gifts, the brief handing over of the gift may be the only holiday-related interaction you have with that person on White Day!
Many people in America feel that Valentine’s Day has become too commercialized, but White Day is a commercial holiday if ever there was one (at least Valentine’s Day has a vague association with saints!).
The reason that day is “White” Day is because it began as “Marshmallow Day” which means the purchase of marshmallows back in 1977.
The following year, Japan’s National Confectionery Industry Association called the day White Day instead of Marshmallow Day and began promoting the idea that it was a day for giving Valentine’s Day return gifts. Various companies jumped on the idea and began selling white chocolate in the weeks leading up to March 14th.
Nowadays, White Day gifts do not need to be white, whether they are chocolates or other kinds of items.
The idea of return Valentine’s Day gifts (okaeshi) is not unrelated to the quite prevalent idea of “ongaeshi” (恩返し) or “favor-returning” in Japanese culture. The folktale “Tsuru no Ongaeshi” (鶴の恩返し, literally “the crane’s favor-returning”) immortalized the idea of ongaeshi.
There are several versions of the story, but one common version is that a man helps a wounded crane, and that crane later appears to him as a kind and beautiful woman who offers to become his wife.
Ongaeshi was also the theme of the 2002 Studio Ghibli film “Neko no Ongaeshi” (猫の恩返し, English title “The Cat Returns”). In the movie a high school girl saves a cat (who turns out to be a prince-cat) from being hit by a truck, and is afterwards showered with gifts of gratitude from the kingdom of cats.
Aside from the realms of fiction, ongaeshi is an important feature of social interaction in Japan. And while White Day okaeshi are a somewhat inflated version of an everyday return favor or gift, the cultural presence of ongaeshi may be part of the reason White Day caught on as much as it did.
Learn Japanese! Phrases for White Day for Guys
Both men and women can use these phrases (after all, you don’t need to be a guy to ask someone out on a date on White Day!), but we have grouped these phrases generally as gift-giver and gift-recipient.
- I want to buy chocolates for White Day.
Howaito De- ni choko ga kaitai n desu ga.
If it’s your first time experiencing White Day in Japan and you’re feeling uncertain about what to purchase, you can use this phrase to ask friends or store employees for pointers. Though “kaitai desu” by itself means “I would like to buy,” changing the ending to “n desu ga” is polite because it makes the phrase sound less abrupt or demanding.
- What kind of jewelry does [name] like?
[Name] san wa, donna jueri- ga suki kana?
- This is my return gift for your Valentine’s Day gift.
Barentain De- no okaeshi da.
- I like you, [name].
[Name] san no koto, suki da yo.
When expressing your feelings in Japanese to someone whom you would like to date, the word “love” is typically not used. Rather, the more mild word “like” (好き, suki) is almost always used in this situation. “Love” is for expressing familial affection, or more serious romantic affection further down the road in a relationship.
- Please go out with me!
If that special someone gave you Valentine’s chocolate but you’ve never told them how you feel, White Day could be a good opportunity!
Learn Japanese! Phrases for White Day for Girls
Many of these phrases will seem quite a bit shorter than their English equivalents. This is because informal Japanese tends to leave out any words that are understood to be part of a sentence. So, for example, in the phrase “It’s wonderful!” the speaker is literally only saying “Wonderful!” – the “it’s” does not need to be included. When speaking more formal Japanese, more of these understood sentence pieces tend to be left in.
- Thank you!
This is an informal way of saying “Thanks!” If you receive a White Day gift from a coworker or an acquaintance with whom you are not close, you can use the more polite “Arigatou gozaimasu” (ありがとうございます) instead.
- The chocolate was delicious.
- I’ll wear it every day.
Mainichi kiru wa.
Clothing is not an uncommon White Day gift. Intimate garments such as lingerie (white) may be given to a significant other, but outwear such as scarves are sometimes also given as “giri” presents. You can use this phrase to express your gratitude.
- It’s wonderful!
If the gift was not food, candy, or clothing, you can use this phrase to express general gratitude and excitement!
- You’ve made me happy.
Have you celebrated White Day? Were you the gift-giver, or the gift recipient? What sort of gift did you give or receive? Leave us a comment and tell us what sort of experiences you have had with this holiday, either in Japan or in other countries!