In Japan, the celebrating of Valentine’s Day is a perfect scenario for men as they have to do nothing and they receive gifts, usually of chocolate. Men in Japan do not have to worry about rushing out to buy flowers, gifts or what restaurant to book for February 14th as it is only the women in Japan that buy the gifts for that occasion. The evening before Valentine’s Day and you will find confectionery departments of stores are packed with women buying gifts for the man or men in their lives.

Women will also buy some chocolate for their boss (if male) as well as male coworkers, brothers and for their father. It is known in Japan as “giri chocolate” or obligation chocolate. It is a gift bought out of obligation towards the males in their lives.

This act of giving is not just one way though, men are then expected to reciprocate with a return gift one month later on the 14th of March, and this is known as “White Day.” A girl may receive an expensive gift from her sweetheart on this day. If the male is not too interested in her then she may only receive a gift of marshmallows.

On White Day, men are expected to reciprocate the gift they received many times over, spending at least two or three times the value of the gift they received on Valentine’s Day. As a minimum they should buy some expensive chocolates and a dinner at a nice restaurant. Other gifts could be flowers, designer items such as a handbag or even diamonds. If a man truly despises a woman that bought him a Valentine’s gift he may buy her marshmallows as they are seen as an insult.

The Custom of Valentine’s Day in Japan

Valentine’s Day began in England and first spread throughout the English speaking world from the 19th century. Valentine’s Day was first introduced into Japan in 1936 when a company, Morozoff ran an advertisement aimed at foreigners although it did not really take off. In 1953 the same company promoted chocolate in the shape of a heart, with other Japanese companies soon following this new trend. In 1958, a “Valentine Sale” was promoted by the Isetan Department Store with further advertising campaigns popularizing the custom during the 1960’s.

The custom in Japan of only women giving chocolate to men may have originated due to an error in translation. This error was made by an executive of a chocolate company during the initial promotional campaigns. It meant ladies working in an office gave chocolate to their male co-workers. In western countries where gifts such as flowers and dinner are more common on February 14th, in Japan the emphasis is on giving the correct amount of chocolate to each person. Japanese chocolate companies usually expect to make around half of their annual profits through Valentine’s and White Days sales.

Women feel they are obliged to give chocolate to their male co-workers, unless the holiday falls on a Sunday. In Japan it is known as giri-choko (obligation chocolate) with unpopular workers receiving cho-giri choko or the cheapest chocolate. Honmei-choko, literally means true feeling chocolate which is given to a loved one. Friends may exchange tomo-choko, which translates as friend’s chocolate.


The Introduction of White Day!

In the 1980s, a campaign was launched by the Japanese National Confectionery Association to make a “reply day” on the 14th of March. White chocolate was offered for this special day when men were expected to return the favor of the chocolates they had received. A previous failed attempt at launching such a celebration had been introduced by a marshmallow manufacturer that had wanted men to buy their marshmallows as a reciprocating gift.

Men are expected to buy gifts in return of at least two or three times the value of the gifts they received the previous month. Not buying a gift in return is seen as the man saying he is in a position of superiority over the woman. A gift of equal value is a way of saying that their relationship is being cut or of less value.

Originally only gifts of chocolate were given, although now gifts of jewelry, accessories, clothing and white lingerie are also commonplace. The official White Day website states that white was chosen because it represents purity and evokes sweet pure love. The name used on the first White Day was “Ai ni Kotaeru White Day” which translates as “Answer Love on White Day.”

The romantic dinner setting that is associated with Valentine’s Day in many western countries is actually celebrated in Japan on Christmas Eve. There is a slightly different version of a lover’s celebratory day known as Tanabata that has been celebrated in Japan for centuries. This celebration occurs on July the 7th and may have connections to the Lover’s Festival held in China on the 7th day of the Seventh month of the lunar calendar.

The Failure of Marshmallow Day

In 1977, a confectionery company, Ishimuramanseido, based in the southern city of Fukuoka began marketing their marshmallow products to men on March 14 and called it Marshmallow Day. It was an ambitious plan as Valentine’s Day had already caught on in Japan. Japanese women were interested in Valentine’s Day and the company’s president thought it a good idea to promote their products as a way of men reciprocating the gifts they had received a month earlier. To drive home the idea of marshmallows the day was given the name of White Day. The idea was a good one, except there was a major problem. Women were happy to buy chocolate for men but did not want to receive back a gift of marshmallows. Japanese women expected something a little more in return, candy at least. In 1978, white chocolate was introduced and White Day was born. It was soon introduced into South Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia and China.

While the day before Valentine’s Day is full of women buying chocolate for the men in their lives, the run up to White Day is also full of men emerging from their offices and into the world of jewelry stores and lingerie counters when a gift of white chocolate is not a sufficient gift to satisfy the l

ady in their lives.