Pink coloured kitkat with decorative box. A new addition to Japanese tradition.

Valentine’s Day and White Day: Japanese Traditions

Did you forget to buy your lovely lady some flowers last Valentine’s Day? Shizuka Ryokan forgives you; you were probably just following Japanese tradition.

In Japan men don’t have to worry about shopping for jewelry or flowers in February because Valentine’s Day is celebrated differently there; for the Japanese, Valentine’s is a day when women shower men with chocolate.

There are two types of chocolates. Giri-choco (義理チョコ, ‘courtesy chocolate’) is intended for friends, colleagues, bosses, and close male friends. ‘Giri’ translates as obligation and has no romantic connotation. On the other hand, honmei-choco (本命チョコ, ‘chocolate of love’) is given to a boyfriend, lover, or husband. Japanese women often hand make the honmei-choco in the belief that shop-bought chocolate doesn’t cut it when it comes to true love.

White Day (ホワイトデー) is celebrated one month later on March 14. On White Day the men who received chocolates on February 14 are expected to return the favour threefold  (sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し, ‘triple the return’) by giving gifts. Traditional White Day gifts include cookies, jewelry, white chocolate, white lingerie, and… marshmallows!

How did this White Day tradition happen? Well, in 1977, a candy company in Fukuoka declared March 14 Marshmallow Day (マシュマロデー Mashumaro Dē). This evolved into White Day in 1978 when the National Confectionary Industry Association (全国飴菓子工業協同組合) came up with a genius marketing ploy: an ‘answer day’ to Valentine’s. The slogan was: ‘Answer her love on White Day.’

White Day spread to South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau and China. (Interestingly in South Korea Chupa Chup lollypops are the most popular White Day candy). These days, men give both white and dark chocolate, as well as cookies, jewelry, white lingerie, flowers and marshmallows.

Last week Nestlé Japan Ltd. launched the ‘Sublime Ruby Kitkat, a naturally pink chocolate, created by pâtissier Yasumasa Takagi. The Sublime Ruby Kitkat arose after Swiss cacao processor Barry Callebaut invented ‘ruby’ chocolate late last year. Ruby chocolate is the first new natural colour (following dark, milk, and white) for chocolate since white chocolate was invented in the 1930s. The new ruby chocolate is being marketed as the ideal romantic gift in the run up to Valentine’s Day.

[You might be asking: What about gay relationships? It seems that some couples have a tradition where one person gives chocolates on Valentine’s Day and the other returns the favour on White Day. And if you are single don’t fret: In South Korea there is a day for that. Black Day on April 14 is a day where people who didn’t receive any marshmallows can eat a steaming bowl of jjajyangmyeon, or ‘black noodles’]


Shizuka Ryokan serves a traditional banquet dinner every Saturday, Monday and Thursday. This year Valentine’s Day falls on a Wednesday so we are opening the kitchen on February 14 to celebrate. Visit here to book your stay.