Come to Japan at the end of February and you will see shelves of chocolates, gifts and flowers laid out at the front of stores. “Hang on,” you might say to yourself. “Wasn’t Valentine’s Day a few weeks ago?” “Does Japan celebrate it later than the rest of the world?”
Don’t worry. What you are seeing is the build up to “White Day”.
In the West, February 14th is a day for lovers to give gifts to each other. It is a day full of expectation, stress, disappointment and regret. (Or maybe that’s just my memories of Valentine’s Day). However, in Japan, it became mainly a day where women gave chocolates or presents to the men in their lives. To begin with that was just boyfriends and male family members, but it spread over the years to encompass all of the males in a lady’s life. This became known as 義理チョコ “giri choco” (obligatory chocolate), and now women give chocolate to friends, colleagues, bosses, managers and any males they know or work with.
For example, I work at a girls’ school and on Valentine’s Day the students make or buy chocolate for all of the male teachers and even give it to each other. You see teacher’s staggering back from class with armfuls of cookies, cakes, chocolates and biscuits. On Valentine’s Day a few kgs are gained by all members of staff in a very short time. Incidentally, 生チョコ “nama choco” – raw chocolate – is the best form of chocolate ever invented (basically chocolate and butter) and if you ever get the chance you absolutely must try it.
Then, in 1978, someone decided that this wasn’t a fair deal for women. “Why should only women have to give chocolate? What about the men?” said a sensible soul, and, low and behold, White Day was born.
White Day is the day where men are supposed to repay all the gifts they received on Valentine’s Day. They are also supposed to repay triple what they received! I guess that’s to make up for all the years where only women did the giving.
Any gift is acceptable but it tends to be chocolate. In the beginning it was primarily white chocolate but now any kind is acceptable. If it is a gift for a wife or girlfriend, then jewelry or flowers are a good idea.
I have always preferred to make something for my students rather than buying chocolate. They put so much effort in on Valentine’s Day that it is the least I can do. This year I will attempt to make brownies. However, not wishing to send any of them to the hospital, I am opting for a ready-made kit. Still, it’s the thought that counts.
There is, perhaps, a little touch of conspiracy around the creation of White Day. It was the brainchild of the National Confectionery Industry Association. Not the most impartial of bodies when it comes to the giving of chocolate and a sceptic, not me, might say they had more in mind than simply the giving of gifts. Perhaps their profit margin.
I don’t personally care how the day started. I think it’s a wonderful invention. What could be nicer than spending a few hours making cookies, cakes or chocolates to give to people? You can make people happy without any of the emotional romantic hang-ups that we have in the West. What could be better than that? The Japanese are not known for open displays of affection, and this creates the opportunity for them to give and receive, without any embarrassment, and in a purely innocent way.
If you are in Japan at this time give it a try. Buy some chocolate for the women around you and watch the smiles. And if you are not in Japan, try it anyway. Who doesn’t love to receive a chocolate?