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News Navigator: What is the origin of White Day in Japan?

Cookies and cakes for White Day, March 14, are displayed at Odakyu Department Store in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, on March 11, 2019. (Mainichi/Keisuke Umeda)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the Japanese custom of White Day, March 14, when people give gifts in return for those received on Valentine's Day.

Question: When did the custom start?

Answer: In 1980, the Tokyo-based national candy and confectionery industry cooperative association began promoting the custom of White Day where people give candy in return for Valentine's Day chocolate gifts. The move spread throughout Japan. And it is said that "white" comes from the pure white color of sugar that candy is made of, but there are different stories about the origin of the event.

Q: Could you tell me another story about the origin of White Day?

A: The move to send gifts in return for Valentine's Day presents emerged around the 1970s among the younger generation, so confectionery companies started marketing their own products for White Day gifts. Fukuoka-based Ishimuramanseido Co. in western Japan, which runs traditional Japanese confectionery shops, claims that its well-known products containing marshmallows were the first of their kind. In 1978, it began selling the products as White Day gifts after the then president of the company thought it was unfair that those who gave chocolates on Valentine's Day didn't receive any return gifts. At that time, the company called White Day "Marshmallow Day."

Q: Confectionery shops began the custom, didn't they? But people choose not only confectionery but also packages of tea, handkerchiefs and other items as gifts.

A: Confectionery has remained popular as gifts, and chocolates and cookies have been selling well at department stores in Tokyo.

Q: The number of those who don't send gifts in return for Valentine's Day presents is increasing, isn't it?

A: According to the Japan Anniversary Association in the city of Saku in the central Japan prefecture of Nagano, the market size of White Day goods is estimated at about 49 billion yen for 2019, a decrease of 4 billion yen from last year. While the White Day custom is part of Japanese gift-giving culture, some people think that it is burdensome or should be left up to each individual to decide whether to send gifts in return for Valentine's Day chocolates that are given merely out of courtesy. This relatively new custom may change with the times.

(Answers by Keisuke Umeda, Lifestyle News Department)

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