To Western eyes, there’s no shortage of unusual Japanese festivals that have little to no equivalent in our society.
Indeed, the first time I started throwing dried rice around the house in order to ward away evil spirits, I couldn’t help but feel like I was wasting food.
(Then again, you can imagine the reaction most Japanese people have when they see us Westerners carving up a perfectly edible pumpkin on Halloween!).
Anyway, last month was Valentine’s Day, a chocolate-fueled holiday dedicated to everlasting love (or at least intense sugar-highs).
While this Hallmark holiday has swept around the world, from London to Sydney and Buenos Aires to Cape Town, Valentine’s Day in Japan is just a bit different.
While Western women expect their significant others to reward their devotion with flowers, candy, jewelry and/or expensive dinners, in Japan, Valentine’s Day is a man’s holiday.
Yes – that’s right! On Valentine’s Day in Japan, men expect their significant others to reward their devotions with chocolate, expensive dinners and/or a six pack of lager.
But, fret not ladies as today is March 14th, which is otherwise known as White Day in Japan.
And, assuming you haven’t broken up with your man since February, today you can expect your generosity to be repaid three-fold!
White Day (ホワイトデー, howaito dē), which was created in Japan in 1980, is somewhat akin to the American version of Valentine’s Day, though it’s celebrated exactly one month after the fact.
While few women in the West have any reason to mark March 14th on their calendars, this seemingly innocent day is unforgettable in Asia.
In fact, the concept of White Day has spread throughout Korea, China, Taiwan and Hong Kong in recent years, and is being applauded as a way of turning the tables on sexism.
While women in Asia have long been snubbed on Valentine’s Day, Japanese females are quick to cite the right of sanbai kaeshi (三倍返し), which literally translates to thrice the return.
So, if you gave your man a box of $25 chocolates on Valentine’s Day, this rule dictates that the return gift should at least $75 or even more.
Then again, as this is the age of women’s liberation here in Japan, it shouldn’t come as surprise that the right of juubai kaeshi (十倍返し) or ten-times the return is becoming more the norm.
So where exactly does White Day come from?
Well, the romantic story is that the holiday began in 1965 when a marshmallow maker started marketing to men.
His unique pitch was that men should pay back the women who gave them chocolate and other gifts with fluffy, white marshmallows.
Of course, the reality is probably a bit more monetary in scope.
In the 1970s, confectionery companies realized that they could capitalize on such a tradition, and began marketing white chocolate.
Soon after, other companies jumped on the consumer bandwagon, and started advertising everything from white gold to white-lace lingerie.
History aside, today is White Day in Japan…
So, if you’re living over here in the Land of the Rising Sun, and there is a significant other in your life, might I suggest a quick run to the candy store.
After all, the consequences for missing White Day are just to brutal and gruesome to depict here.
** Image are courtesy of the WikiCommons media project. **