Japan’s White Day — A Culture of Giving

7 min readSep 15, 2023

By Kana Kono (14/03/2023)

White day marshmallows.

Today, March 14th, marks White Day. White Day happens every year on March 14th — exactly a month after Valentine’s Day. Functioning as a continuation of Japanese Valentine’s Day festivities, the holiday encourages people (often men) who received gifts on Valentine’s Day return the favour, giving back small gestures such as sweets, fashion goods, and most popularly chocolate, to express their gratitude.

In this article, we cover the history of Japan’s White Day, and look into the commercial and cultural drivers that started it, and how these link into Japan’s culture of giving.

Before we go into White Day and Japan’s culture of giving, let’s start by going over its history.

The History of White Day

Since the 1970s, Valentine’s Day has been celebrated popularly in Japan. With companies profiting off of the festivities as a sales opportunity, many looked to build further on the trend, marketing their products as a way for men to give thanks and return the favour after Valentine’s Day, with their own special sales days such as “candy day” and “marshmallow day”. These special sales days were the predecessors to White Day, and did not have fixed dates, with companies promoting their own days as they wished.

The first public campaigns for “White Day” appeared in 1980. There are many theories as to which companies were responsible for this, but some cite Japanese confectionary shop Ishimura Manseidou and the Japanese National Candy Association (全国飴菓子工業協同組合) as some of the first to be involved. It’s thought that the name “White Day” in particular may originate from Ishimura Manseidou’s “marshmallow day” campaign aimed at men, encouraging them to give back to women who expressed interest in them, with the whiteness of marshmallows giving them the idea.

This is how White Day also came to be known as “Response Day”, as many choose to give their response to romantic confessions along with their gifts. March 14th, being 1 month after Valentine’s Day, simply made sense to retailers to time their promotions.

Ishimura Manseidou White Day promotion, featuring a white marshmallow with a chocolate center.
Source: ishimura.co.jp/whiteday/

Being promoted by the National Candy Association and proving highly popular, White Day spread quickly across the country, even passing Japan’s borders. White Day is not just observed in Japan, but also in South Korea, Taiwan, and to a lesser extent China. As seen in the image above, Japanese White Day promotions generally follow a blue and white colour scheme to differentiate themselves from those of Valentine’s Day.

Initially popular gifts during White Day were hard candies and marshmallows. However, during the mid 1980s to early 1990s, Japan experienced rapid economic growth and many men looked to gift more luxury goods such as fashion products in return. This lean towards luxury goods on White Day remains to this day, and can be seen in the way despite Valentine’s Day being celebrated by more people, White Day is thought to bring more economic activity. In 2019, the Japanese market for White Day goods was estimated at around 49 billion JPY (530 million USD).

Want to learn more about Valentine’s Day in Japan? Read our article here.

Japan’s Culture of Gift-Giving

White Day makes sense in Japan’s gift-giving culture, serving as an answer to Valentine’s Day’s question. In Japanese culture, it is important to return the favour when receiving a gift, giving something back of at least equal value. Valentine’s Day traditionally gave an opportunity for women to confess their love to their romantic interest with a small gift, and so the appearance of White Day, where men give back to women from whom they received a gift, makes sense, and fits into Japan’s cultural equation.

Two Japanese people exchanging a gift.
Source: jdrachel.com/2018/03/12/life-in-japan-white-day/

In this way, White Day and Valentine’s Day serve as an interesting window into Japanese gift-giving culture. While this practice may seem to follow rather set gender roles, in reality it is not so strict, with many people giving and receiving regardless of gender. It does remain the overarching trend however, with marketing campaigns aimed at men and women separately appearing yearly.

This often intimate exchange is makes White Day very popular as a couple’s holiday. As mentioned before, White Day gifts are not limited to snacks and chocolates, but also include luxury goods like designer bags, makeup, clothing, lingerie, travel experiences and more.

When looking to give something of value however, many people, especially young people like students, look for more affordable ways of doing so, and pour time and effort into making handmade baked goods or chocolates. Again, people try to match each other’s efforts/value here. If someone gives another handmade chocolates on Valentine’s Day, and then gets given cheap, store-bought chocolates in response on White Day, it’s seen as disappointing.

Not all White Day/Valentine’s Day interactions are fuelled by romantic love however — many people choose to give and return giri-choco, which have a very different meaning.

Giri Choco: Obligation Chocolate

Chocolates given to non-romantic partners are often called “giri choco” in Japan. To break this down, “giri” refers to the Japanese concept of obligation, and “choco” simply to “chocolate”, so this can be translated directly to “obligation chocolate”.

Giri choco reflects the Japanese culture of expressing gratitude to one another, rather than expressing love. Giving out giri choco is a lot less emotionally involved than giving romantic gifts, and many people casually hand them out to classmates and co-workers of the opposite sex on the day.

Meiji Chocolate White Day promotion.
Source: withonline.jp/lifestyle/GhNzZ

Giri choco is not the only type of platonic gift given out on White Day however. Some people choose to exchange chocolates as friends, while avoiding the connotations of social obligation that come with “giri”, giving each other tomo choco, literally “friend chocolate”.

On the flip-side, those who feel gratefully indebted to others for their help sometimes choose to give “osewa choco” as thanks. This comes from the term “osewa ni naru”, meaning to be looked after by someone, and packs stronger feelings of thankfulness.

Additionally, those looking to give themselves a little boost of self love give themselves “jibun chocoor “mai choco” — meaning “me chocolate” and “my chocolate” respectively. From the ever-growing number of ways that people can exchange gifts in this season, it’s clear how companies use White Day in Japan to the fullest to drive their seasonal sales.

Indeed, White Day and Valentine’s Day in Japan are not just for lovers, but also for friends, for oneself, and for people simply looking to express their gratitude. On that note…

Upcoming new trend: Black Day?

As mentioned prior, White Day is also popular in South Korea. However, a new trend has emerged, called “Black Day” — also known as “Singles’ Day”. Much like White Day to Valentine’s Day, Black Day comes exactly 1 month after White Day, on the 14th of April.

While Valentine’s Day and White Day are typically celebrated amongst lovers and the event surrounds itself with romance, Black Day is for those who were not involved in any of the two days, those who are not romantically attached to anyone. The day came to be as single people felt they deserved to have a day of celebration as well.

Black Day is celebrated completely differently from White Day and Valentine’s Day however. Black Day, in South Korea is celebrated by eating jjajangmyeon, a Korean black soy bean noodle dish. Jjajangmyeon is a popular Korean comfort food for many and single people come together to enjoy the food while celebrating (or lamenting) their independence.

Korean jjajangmyeon noodle Black Day promotion in Japan.
Source: prtimes.jp/main/html/rd/p/000000003.000064207.html

Again unlike White Day or Valentine’s Day, there is no gift-giving associated with Black day. While single people in Japan do participate in the other days platonically, Black Day may be a new event they would be keen on partaking in. If this trend evolves further in the future, it may provide yet another seasonal sales opportunity for the Japanese market.

Intrigued by new trends in the Japanese market and its consumers? Read our article by Sophia University’s Professor Dr. Haghirian, Japan’s New Consumer Groups Explained.


As we have established, White Day is a continuation of the Valentine’s Day festivities that arose from marketing campaigns seeking to give people a chance to give back. While one of its main focuses may be romance, just as with Valentine’s Day in Japan, this is not all. It serves as an important opportunity to express gratitude to the people around you, or even just enjoy yourself with friends. Its history also works as a great example of how Japanese retailers build their promotional campaigns with local culture in mind, and this is something that foreign businesses can seek to learn from when looking to interact with the Japanese market.

Like White Day and Valentine’s Day, there are many holidays in Japan and Asia that are a perfect opportunity for brands to showcase their products and services. However, you may be missing great opportunities if you don’t understand their cultural contexts.

Our multicultural, bilingual team here at Tokyoesque have the deep, native knowledge of Japanese culture needed to guide you through the different cultural layers you will encounter when doing business in Japan. If you are looking to understand more about the Japanese market and culture, contact us and we will be happy to assist you!

See also: Japan’s Gen Z — 5 Points about the Enlightened ‘Satori Generation’

Keep checking back or follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter to get notified about our latest posts. We’ll be adding more articles on seasonal and cultural occasions in Japan, so watch this space!

Alternatively, feel free to get in touch and see how we can help you develop your offering in the Japanese market.




Japan-EU market entry and expansion consultancy driven by market research. Based in London and Amsterdam, we provide cultural insights with real impact in Japan