Mark Guthrie introduces the alien concept known as “White Day”
Guys in Japan, you think you’ve got it made, don’t you? Not only is it a massively patriarchal society (go on, look around and try to claim it isn’t so), but in February, rather than shelling out a shed load of cash on jewelry and gifts at Valentine’s Day, instead girls you barely knew were shoving homemade goodies into your hot little hands. Wonderful wasn’t it?
And now it’s March, so you know what that means, don’t you? March 14th is Steak and Blow Job Day! Life is great, when you’re a man, isn’t it?
Actually, wrong. If you were expecting **insert your own ‘slab of meat’ based pun here**, you will be sorely disappointed, because here in Japan March 14th means White Day.
When you consider Japan’s tradition of okaeshi, the custom of giving reciprocative gifts, it is surprising that it took so long for the idea to germinate. But in 1977 a full ten years after Valentine’s Day was introduced to Japan, Marshmallow Day came along, providing men with the much needed opportunity to repay the confectionary giving favour. This altruistic idea – to give chocolate-filled marshmallows with the somewhat creepy tagline “I will return your chocolate covered in my gentleness – was the brainchild of a Fukuoka resident who was so distressed at having no chance to shower gifts on those he had received from the previous month that he created a day in which he could. The fact that he happened to be the owner of the Ishimura Manseido Confectionary store is surely a massive coincidence.
It was immediately apparent that people liked the idea of Marshmallow Day, even though they weren’t overly keen on marshmallows. And so in June 1979 the All Japan Sweets and Confectionary Makers Union gathered in Nagoya (presumably in a Hansel and Gretel style boardroom, or Bond villain style in a subterranean lair within a cola and Mentos powered volcano), and came up with the idea of Ai ni Kotaeru White Day (Answer Love on White Day) to be introduced in the March of 1981.
Initially a big hit, with white chocolate in place of marshmallows representing the purity of sweet teen love (as opposed to the presumably dirty dark kind peddled the month before), White Day sales dwindled in their next four years. However, in 1986 sales of White Day products hit in excess of ¥5.5bn, cementing it as nenchugyoji, a regular event in the Japanese calendar.
If you are new to White Day, then you need be careful, as there are problems and pitfalls you may encounter. Hell, even seasoned pros may need a few hints when it comes to romance.
It’s White Day, Not Whites’ Day
Let’s face it, no matter how much Jeremy-Fucking-Clarkson-types spout off about the oppression of the white middle class male, if you are living in Japan and both earning a living and picking up mates through virtue of your Anglo Saxon tongue and features, pretty much every day in Japan is Whites’ Day. Besides, there’s nothing sexy or romantic about being a bigoted prick, so rather than cutting eyeholes in your bed sheets like an idiot child at Halloween, instead sprinkle rose petals on them, get down the shops and get your girl a gift.
Get The Right Gift
If in doubt, get cookies. Of course diamonds are a girl’s best friend, flowers are always welcome and some girls will appreciate lingerie (white, in keeping with the day’s aesthetic), but if you are unsure, follow the long line of confused and concerned men to the confectionary aisles of department stores and fight them for chocolates or cookies (nowadays both white or dark chocolate are acceptable). Don’t go nuts wracking your brain thinking ‘well, the wife likes cooking’ and get her a takoyaki maker like someone who shall remain nameless in these pages did (but you know who you are!). It won’t be appreciated.
Spend The Right Amount
Yeah, those guys at the All Japan Sweets and Confectionery Makers Union were no fools, because somehow they managed to add as a caveat that, not only should men return gifts that they received, but on White Day there is the concept of sanbai gaeshi, literally thrice the return. So, if your girl goes all out and buys you some fancy Belgian chocolate on February 14, you have to reply with something of three times the value. Hardly seems fair, does it?
Who Should You Give To?
But to whom should you give White Day gifts? On Valentine’s Day it is possible that you got chocolate from many women. Some of these may have been from loved ones, but most would probably have been giri choco, not given with romantic intention, but through social obligation from a friend or colleague. So, should you return the token of appreciation? At three times the value? Well, a 2000 poll of Japanese men for Japan-guide.com showed that less than one in four men gave presents to co-workers and/or friends, so if you are a bit of a skinflint, you can probably get away with avoiding obligation.
If In Doubt, Ask The Missus
If you decide to go down the giri choco route and find yourself stood amongst the sea of men in Tokyu Hands unsure of which chocolates you should get for which of your friends and co-workers, you may notice that you are not alone in that boat, and many of the men will have brought the wife or girlfriend to help them pick out the appropriate gifts. Whether this is done it as an act of kindness to you, or to ensure you don’t break the bank on gifts for potential rivals, you’ll probably never know.
Don’t Forget All Your Girlfriends
Oh, you may chuckle to your significant other as you read that last line. As if there could possibly be anyone to rival you, you tell her with a look of Astraean innocence on your angelic face. Well, that same Japan-guide.com poll showed that almost half of the men gave presents to two or three women, with a further 19% giving to more than three. So, as only a quarter of men give giri choco, unless Nagmag’s maths is as bad as its GCSE grade reflects, nearly 50% of Japanese men have at least two women on the go. We can’t decide whether we pity or envy them.
If you have managed to coax your loved one into agreeing that White Day, as a confectionery industry construct, isn’t worth celebrating, please just keep it to yourself, as you surely don’t want to see the rest of us green with envy. You jammy, jammy bastard.