There are a number of traditional, time-honored holidays in Japan--and then there's "White Day." Created by the candy industry, this March 14 holiday is a relatively recent addition to the calendar, as might be obvious given that its name is in English.
Coming exactly a month after Valentine's Day, which is celebrated in Japan by women giving chocolates to men, White Day is a chance to return the favor in a big way.
According to a pre-Valentine's Day survey conducted by Takashimaya department store, women typically buy 10 boxes of chocolates to hand out to close friends and coworkers on the special day, spending on average of 1,280 yen ($13.40) on each. On White Day, men are expected to reciprocate with gifts worth three times that of those they received.
The day is clearly a boon for the National Confectionery Industry Association, which first etched the date on the calendar back in 1980.
The holiday got its name because men were originally intended to return gifts of white chocolates, although cookies and sweets, jewelry, lingerie and fancy dinners have become increasingly popular.
Marshmallows are another go-to gift, and, in fact, the day could easily have been dubbed Marshmallow Day: A Fukuoka-based confectioner came up with the idea of men giving marshmallows to the ladies on March 14 three years before the industry-created event came to be.
Japanese men have mixed feelings about the wallet-wringing gift-giving that the day calls for.
"It's obviously an industry creation to drum up sales," "It's fun to choose gifts, but on the other hand my sense of taste is going to be judged," and "I have to make sure that I don't upset the social order at work" are just some of the comments 1,236 men gave in a February opinion survey by SBI Holdings.
The survey also found that 65 percent of them considered the event to be a bother. (Interestingly, it also found that only 25 percent of men have actually gotten gifts on Valentine's Day.)
For some, however, the day is seen as a good chance to break the ice at work, a way to gauge one's popularity or a golden opportunity to declare amorous interest to that special someone.
But it's also the end of the sugar high for the country's confectioners, for whom Christmas, Valentine's Day and White Day represent the beginning, middle and end of the peak production season.
"The winter months have kept us twice as busy as we usually are. Instead of producing 20 tons of chocolate a day, we are producing 50," says Toshihiko Hayashi, a quality control manager at the Nisshin Kako Co. confectionery factory in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture. The OEM company produces chocolate, margarine, custards and fillings and has won a gold medal at the food industry's Monde Selection judging event for 25 years in a row.
"I can't think of anyone in the world who hates chocolates," Hayashi says. "We're very glad to be involved in the production of something that brings so much happiness to people. Our role may be small, but working in chocolate I feel that we're contributing to society."
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