White Day

Happy White Day! If I were to offer that greeting to folks here in Rapid City today, I think that most of them would think of the weather outside, which is better than making assumptions about race and racism which the greeting might invoke in some places. We’ve been warned for several days that there would be a blizzard yesterday and it pretty much came through. As my father-in-law used to say, “it doesn’t take much snow to make a blizzard if it is all in the air.” The wind started to rise around noon and there were some pretty good gusts blowing by the time it started snowing. We got home around 2:30 and by 4 it was clear that it was a good day to stay home. We cancelled all of the evening programs at the church and stayed put. Except for one neighbor who really, really loves to operate his four-wheeler with the snow plow, most of the folks in our neighborhood just watched from inside our homes. That particular neighbor was outside with his machine again at midnight, but I’m pretty sure he’ll have snow to move this morning when he gets up and he’ll probably sleep later than I. It isn’t snowing much, but the wind is still blowing at a pretty good clip. It is a white world out there - or least a world with muted colors. Most of the day yesterday looking outside was like looking at a black and white television. The reduced lighting from the clouds and all the snow in the air made things look pretty stark.

But for people in Japan, white day has a different meaning. To understand, you have to know that many Japanese people love American holidays, but they add their own twist. For example, only about 1% of Japanese people are Christian, but they play up Christmas in their advertisements and marketing to a similar level that the holiday is marketed in the United States. The Japanese, however, like to go to KFC for chicken on Christmas. It is so popular that you have to make reservations to eat at KFC in Japan on Christmas. To understand that dynamic, you could try shopping for a turkey in Japan. Chances are, you’ll give up, settle for chicken and begin to understand how the tradition got started over there. For what it is worth, you don’t want to have to pay Japanese prices for a Watermelon on the 4th of July, but of course, July 4 isn’t a big holiday in Japan.

In Japan, Valentine’s day is the day when women give gifts to men to express their love. It isn’t like the US, where the gifts flow both directions. February 14 is for women to give gifts to men. It is kind of like Sadie Hawkins Day - a time when it is socially acceptable for women to make public displays of their attraction to men. Sadie Hawkins day isn’t really big in the part of the world where I live. I had to look it up to know it is November 15. In Japan, however, February 14 is marketed as the big day for women to give love gifts to men. The traditional gift is no surprise: chocolate.

Then with the advantage of a one month’s warning, which makes it even easier when the first month is February because in 3 out of every 4 years the days of the week are the same in March as in February, March 14 is the day for men to reciprocate with a gift for women. I think that a man is supposed to give a gift to the same woman who gave him a gift on February 14. March 14 is marketed as White Day.

Happy White Day!

For reasons that I have no clue about, the traditional gift for men to give women in Japan is something white. Cake is a good choice, but even more popular is Marshmallows, which, quite frankly seems like it isn’t fair to women. A box of a dozen chocolate truffles is going to set you back $25 for so. A bag of marshmallows is about $2.50. Admittedly, Japanese marshmallows are a bit different from the ones sold for roasting around campfires in the US. They are usually round and Japanese confectioners put some effort into making them look very appealing. And they do make chocolate filled marshmallows in Japan.

Still, a marshmallow is a marshmallow and if you are like me, they aren’t one of the wonders of modern eating. I rally don’t like them that much. I usually avoid them when they are offered in favor of something else. Chocolate is good.

The story is that a candy company, Ishimura Manseido, invented White Day 40 years ago. They were responding to the Japanese love of giving gifts. Giving and receiving gifts is very popular in Japan. When we visited some of our Japanese friends, they had little gifts for each day of our visit. We brought gifts to give as well, but definitely fell short of the number of gifts offered by our friends. Chances are most men in Japan receive a lot of gifts on Valentine’s day, from colleagues, family members, friends and others. Remembering who gave the gifts and making sure that you have a reciprocal gift a month later can become a big deal.

According to an article I read on the BBC website, giving was down for both Valentine’s Day and White Day last year and it is expected to drop even more this year. While advertisers proclaim that White Day is connected to the core values of Japanese people, many folks are coming to the conclusion that the holiday really exists for corporations to squeeze more money out of common people.

As an outsider, I may not fully understand Japanese culture, but I have observed that the concept of Okaeshi is important. Okaeshi means expressing appreciation or gratitude for a gift received. It is expressed through words, gestures, and, frequently, the giving of a gift in response. So everyone in Japan is always giving gifts to everyone else at every opportunity. Japanese people live in very small homes, but I suspect some of them are filled with scarves and handkerchiefs. One home we visited had a “craft room” which was filled with items to give as gifts.

My plans for white day, however, don’t include gifts. I think I’ll celebrate by shoveling snow.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!