Japan’s White Day ( ホワイトデー )

white day

Photo courtesy aringoaday.com

As we have already established, Valentine’s Day (Februaury 14th) in Japan is observed by females giving chocolates to the males in their lives (be it out of love, obligation or courtesy).

However, one month later (March 14th), the reverse occurs: the males who were fortunate to receive either honmei-choco ( chocolate of love) or giri-choco ( courtesy chocolate) on Valentine’s Day; return the girls’ gestures with gifts of their own.

Considered a a day of return; it is called “White Day ” ( ホワイトデー Howaito Dē).

Gifts and sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し)

white day cartoon

Photo courtesy: http://www.japantimes.co.jp  ( I had to share this clever strip!)

Looking for some White Day gifts to purchase but have no idea what to get? Here is a list of some of the most popular presents given on this day:

  • White Chocolate
  • Jewelry
  • Flowers
  • Marshmallows
  • Sentimental Gifts
  • White Clothing / Lingerie

These gifts are normally packaged in white boxes and may come with stylish, white bags to put them in.

To avoid any awkward situations from occuring; please do not give clothing / lingerie to anyone who:

  • is NOT your wife
  • is NOT your girlfriend
  • gave you obligation chocolate
  • gave you courtesy chocolate

This is a V E R Y personal gift. Please use caution!

But before you run out to purchase your gifts, there is a general rule of thumb that males adhere to on this day…. and it is that of sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し): the returning present should be three times the cost of the Valentine’s gift!

This is the main reason why the prices of white chocolate and other favoured items are observed to be more expensive around this date…sorry guys!

And, if as a guy you think there is a possibility of using the excuse that, “I forgot,” would suffice… think again.

Soon after Valentine’s Day, everywhere one looks, there is some sort of reminder that White Day is fast approaching. Supermarkets, department stores, train stations, television, popular bakeries and confectioneries all over Japan have advertisements, products and other reminders about White Day …. so there is no running away from it!

History of White Day

white-day-1Uniquely Japanese, it is sadly a fairly recent celebration created in 1978 by the National Confectionery Industry Association to boost sales and revenue.

Initially, it was called ‘Marshmallow Day‘ (マシュマロデー Mashumaro Dē). This was due to the marketing of marshmallows to men by the Japanese confectioner company called Ishimuramanseido.

However, marshmallows were not as well-liked, and soon the gift of choice changed to chocolate… but white chocolate to keep with the theme of “white”. This in turn, eventually led to the day being renamed as “White Day”.

Although this day is of Japanese innovation; its popularity has allowed it to spread to neighbouring East Asian countries like China, South Korea and Taiwan.

Valentine’s Day (バレンタインデイ) in Japan

You are watching your favourite (school life) anime and you come across an episode where it is all about the dreaded yet much-anticipated ‘Valentine’s Day’.

So, what makes this day in Japan to stand out so much… especially to Westerners?

The main reason being……

O n l y       F e m a l e s       G i v e       C h o c o l a t e      ! ! ! !


Photo courtesy hako toshokan.

In the West, both men and ladies celebrate Valentine’s Day by showering upon their loved ones with extravagant gifts of flowers, jewelry, heart-shaped chocolates, expensive dinners… Some men even use this romantic opportunity to propose to their partners!

However, in Japan, Valentine’s Day is primarily an opportunity for females to express their love or interest in the males who have caught their fancy. It is the one day that a female is informally socially permitted (by herself and others) to muster the courage and declare (either openly or secretly) the affection she holds (and most likely has held) for a male by   presenting a special gift to him.

For a girl who has a special interest in a guy and is not sure about how he may feel about her;  Valentine’s Day is not only a special day but it is a day that could be anxiety driven yet very exhilarating and ‘freeing’. It is a day that stands out as a day that could change her life. One could probably argue that for some, it is a rite of passage (so to speak).


Types of Chocolates Given On Valentine’s Day


To avoid making people feel left out on Valentine’s Day (for example, at work ), there are presently four (4) different kinds of chocolates that are given by girls.

The type that is given depends largely upon two main factors:

  1.  It depends strongly upon whom the chocolates are given to and
  2. The meaning that the chocolate has from the giver to the receiver (the relationship that the giver has to the receiver).

It should be noted that since there are so many different chocolates given on Valentine’s Day; it is important to inform the person of the type of chocolate that is being presented to them. This is to avoid any confusion or awkward circumstances from occurring.

So, what are the four types of chocolate, you ask? Well, let’s get right into it . . . .


Honmei-Chocolate (本命チョコ)

Honmei-Chocolate means ‘home-made / favourite chocolate‘ or ‘chocolate of love‘.

It is a romantic chocolate – the kind of chocolate one gives to the one you want to express your love to. These chocolates tend to be of high quality, expensive or are even home-made.

The reason why a lot of honmei- chocolates are home-made is simple: the time and the effort that is undertaken in the making of the chocolates, present ladies with an opportunity to create and give a chocolate that is filled with their love and affection.


Giri-Chocolate (義理チョコ)

This means ‘obligatory / courtesy gift chocolate‘. It refers to the chocolate one has to give to people (usually male) bosses, co-workers, teammates or classmates, etc.. The chocolate is store-bought, not very expensive and there is no special meaning or feelings behind it.

Since it is an obligatory chocolate, rather than purchase a separate box of chocolates for each co-worker; it is perfectly acceptable to bring one nice box of wrapped chocolates to share with your office, class, team, etc..


Cho-Giri-Chocolate (超義理チョコ)

This is not just an obligatory chocolate … this is a ‘VERY obligatory / courtesy chocolate‘.

These chocolates tend to be very generic and are not expensive. They are normally given to  the following people:

  • Those with whom they do not know very well
  • Those with whom they are indifferent to.
  • Those with whom they do not like.
  • Those with whom they do not want to give chocolate to.


Tomo-Chocolate (友チョコ)

This type of chocolate is considered as “friend chocolate”. It is a more recent addition to the variety of Japanese Valentine’s Day chocolates.

It refers to the chocolates one gives to one’s female friends.


History And Marketing Of Valentine’s Day In Japan


In 1936, Valentine’s Day was introduced to Japan by Morozoff Ltd.( a confectionery and cake company that was founded by the Russian emigrate – Fedor Dmitrievich Morozoff ).

Understanding that only foreigners in Japan would know what Valentine’s Day was; it ran the first ever Valentine’s advertisement campaign (in Japan ) in a publication that was geared towards foreigners.

It was, however, only after World War II  did Valentine’s Day start to take a foothold in Japan.

During this period, there was an influx of foreigners and most locals wanted to learn more about Western traditions. Japanese department stores and other manufacturers realized the popularity of Valentine’s Day among foreigners and saw the sales that it garnered for the Morozoff company. They too started advertising Valentine’s Day chocolates … not only to foreigners but to Japanese nationals as well. It was only then did it truly become a phenomenon.

To this day, very prominent displays of heart-shaped chocolates in various sizes, flavours, fillings and packaging can be seen in stores all across Japan.   These displays also feature the various tools required for those who wish to make their own honmei-choco.

It should be noted at this point the impact that Valentine’s Day has on chocolate companies in Japan: it provides them with more than half of their annual sales!

But one issue has always been unresolved…

It seems that when Valentine’s Day was introduced to Japan, there was a mistake that never got amended: that only women gave chocolate to men. Although there are rumours and speculation ( that it was deliberately done by chocolate makers); how this happened is still not exactly clear.

Despite this error, the nation still actively participates in this event. One could argue that this error has allowed this special day to evolve over the years and be celebrated in a unique way that no other country in the world does it. Japan has successfully created its very own Valentine’s Day.


Foreigners’ Valentine’s Notes


Here are some useful tips for foreigners experiencing Valentine’s Day:

  •  If in a relationship with a Japanese male, remember that Japanese men are not expected to do anything on Valentine’s Day.
  • If in a relationship with a Japanese female, remember that she may not expect you to do anything on this day. She will, however, expect an expensive present one month later, on White Day (a follow-up article on this day will be posted soon ).
  • If one wishes to give your Japanese girlfriend | wife a gift for Valentine’s, ensure that the gift is small and does not cost too much. There is a rule of thumb regarding White Day gifts : the gift that is returned to the female on White Day, has to be three times the cost of the Valentine’s Day present that was given by the female. So, to avoid spending too much on both gifts, it is better to wait until White Day to get the more expensive present for the lucky lady in your life.
  • Once a foreigner is in a relationship with a Japanese national, it is advised to discuss the cultural differences regarding this event. Mention as well each other’s expectations of the day so as to avoid any awkward situations or misunderstandings that could occur on the day.
  •  A single foreigner, however, should enjoy the day by giving chocolates to both male and female friends, co-workers, etc.


One Quick Chocolate Recipe


After reading so much about Valentine’s Day and chocolates; it would be awful of me to not leave some sort of recipe that could maybe be of some help to someone who may be in a pinch.

This may not be the classic home-made chocolate, but it is quick and very versatile.


Ingredients / Utensils

  • Chocolate of your choice
  • A microwave (or stove top)
  • A chocolate/ice mold
  • A microwave safe bowl (or pot, if you are using the stove top)
  • Parchment paper
  • Baking Sheet pan
  • Whole strawberries – with leaves and stem, washed and dried
  • Toppings of your choice – nuts, sprinkles, cocoa powder, cake decorations, shredded coconut, dried fruit, etc.



  • To melt the chocolate, put it in a microwave bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Remove the bowl and stir the chocolate for about a minute.
  • Return to the microwave and repeat this process two more times ( 30 seconds, remove and stir for one minute ).
  • As soon as the chocolate is completely melted, start pouring most of the chocolate into the molds – reserving some chocolate for the strawberries.
  • Once the chocolate is in the mold, toppings can be added. But it is perfectly normal to not add toppings.
  • Place the chocolate in the refrigerator for at least twenty minutes  or until the chocolate hardens.When ready to distribute, simply pop the chocolate from the molds, place in pretty cupcake paper or wrap with coloured foil
  • With the strawberries, place parchment paper over a sheet pan.
  • While holding the top of the strawberry by its stem / leaves, gently dip it into the melted chocolate. Remove and hold above chocolate mixture to let the excess drain into the bowl.
  • Place on parchment paper and gently push the strawberry forward to prevent any excess chocolate from collecting around the strawberry. Repeat until chocolate and strawberries are finished.
  • Toppings could also be added to this point, but it could also be left plain.
  • Place sheet pan in the refrigerator for at least twenty minutes to set. Strawberries should be kept in the fridge until ready to serve. Serve chilled to guests within 24 hours of making it.


Thank you for reading this article and I hope that it was informative, enjoyable and fun !

Christmas in Japan

Christmas Light Show in Sapporo 2013

Christmas Light Show in Sapporo, Hokkaido 2013

Oh yes – ‘Tis the season to be jolly!

In Trinidad, most businesses and companies close at midday on Christmas Eve to facilitate final Christmas preparations and gift purchasing. Then, we have both Christmas Day (25th December) and Boxing Day (26th December) as holidays. So, this year, we have a very long weekend starting from midday Wednesday this week!

For us, Christmas is a very big event which has the whole country starting its Christmas countdown soon after Divali Celebrations – which is normally in November. Every day, Christmas songs of yesteryear, today and local favourites could be heard on the radio and blaring in the malls. Parang groups return once again for their seasonal serenades; while the familiar smells of pastelles, roast turkey or ham, fruit and black cakes waft through the air.

The bustling is also enjoyable. Malls’ car parks are slowing bursting with cars that are forced to even park on its perimeter! Once inside, your eyes are overwhelmed by the moving sea of people with the mission of getting the perfect presents for their friends, families and loved ones. Pop-up flea markets appear all across the country offering a variety of goods at prices that rival big companies.

Most homes, businesses and even public areas are adorned with colourful lights, Christmas ornaments and decor. Freshly painted homes with new curtains, furniture and big televisions are a familiar sight. Even businesses get even more in the festive spirit by hosting Christmas parties, breakfast or lunch functions. Employees even participate in games like ‘Secret Santa‘, a gift exchange where a name is randomly drawn and you have to buy that person a nice present within a price range.

Of course, donations and presents to orphanages and families who cannot afford is also part of the experience of Christmas in Trinidad. Churches are also busy in their preparations of ceremonies to be conducted between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Christmas Tree on display at the Narita Airport in Chiba, Japan

Christmas Tree on display at the Narita Airport in Chiba, Japan. See, I managed to sneak my little Coca Cola there in the picture!

You are probably wondering. ‘Why start with Christmas at home? When are you going to get to the topic – Christmas in Japan?

There are two reasons why I started with Christmas in my country of Trinidad:

  1. To highlight some of the traditions and customs from my country that may be the same with you, the reader, in his / her country.

2. To highlight that there may be some traditions and customs that may be different between our countries.

And if there are differences and similarities between our countries, the same could be said between Japan and your own country.

Additionally, I could only list the similarities and differences of Japan’s Christmas in relation to my own experience of Christmas in Trinidad. So, by giving one the idea of what Christmas is like in my country, one is able to better appreciate my perspective of Christmas in Japan.

So let’s get started on our Christmas experience in Japan!!!

Your eyes are not deceiving you – that is the Colonel all dressed up as Santa Claus!

In Japan, a barrel of chicken from KFC is as closely tied to Christmas, as your laces are tied to your shoes! The demand for it is so great that you have to preorder your barrel about 2 – 3 months in advance for Christmas!

So, where and when did this happen?

The story goes that a clever expat in the 1970’s commented that there was no roast turkey to celebrate the season and that the closest thing to it is KFC! An employee heard the comment and after a successful advertising campaign was launched, the rest was history!

Even if you do manage to miss placing that order, you could still go to an outlet and purchase your barrel – BUT BE WARNED! The lines are incredibly long and there is a very long wait!


Yes. You read that correctly.

In Japan, unless you applied for the day off, you would be off to work bright and early on Christmas morning.

So, to all expats living in Japan, it is essential to apply for those vacation days early well in advance if you want to enjoy your Christmas at home with friends and family – even if it is via Skype (like me).

Christmas Eve is considered to be a special and romantic time for couples.

Couples usually meet at a public location, go to a very nice restaurant, take a lovely stroll to see all of the lights that are on display and hopefully exchange meaningful gifts with each other.

It very much resembles the Valentine’s Day that we are accustomed to in the West.

Although it is very much a couple’s ‘holiday‘, people still purchase small gifts for their friends and / or loved ones if they want to show them a small token of appreciation.

Christmas is celebrated more on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day!

Remember that KFC barrel that you ordered months in advance?

Expect to most likely enjoy it with your loved ones on Christmas Eve!

Oh, and those presents?

Most Japanese families share their gifts on Christmas Eve as well!

They may not have Fruit Cake  . . . they may not have Black Cake . . . but by golly they have

C H R I S T M A S    C A K E!

This is a light sponge cake that is packed with fresh strawberries and fresh whipped cream.

Families preorder their Christmas Cakes in advance and enjoy it in all of its yummy goodness  . . . .on Christmas Eve!

Courtesy of: http://endtimeobserver.blogspot.com

Courtesy of: endtimeobserver.blogspot.com

Although most people in Japan are either Shinto or Buddhist, less than one percent of the population is Christian!

There are churches throughout Japan that hold all of the religious ceremonies that are associated with Christmas on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

From my observations, Hokkaido seems to possess the most number of churches per prefecture than any other throughout Japan.

The Christmas Village in Sapporo features a number of novelty stalls - especially from Russia!

The Christmas Village in Sapporo features a number of novelty stalls – especially from Russia!

As stated before, less than one percent of the population in Japan is Christian.

To a number of Japanese people, Christmas is a time of novelty and romance – which spells  COMMERCIAL SUCCESS to businesses.

Big shopping centres invest in a lot of Christmas decorations and provide a lot of sales during this season – even on Christmas Day itself!

Although it is clearly a big commercial event during this time; the products and services that they provide are so novel, unique and manages to find and touch on some sort of nostalgia that resides within your heart – that it becomes incredibly endearing!

And then you HAVE to purchase that item to hold unto that feeling!!!!

There are old cartoons, characters, etc. that you grew up with but are no longer popular in the West, yet they are still well and alive in Japan! For example, my friends ‘Peter Rabbit‘ and ‘The Snowman‘ were available in such a variety of products, that I had to restrain myself from buying the lot!

And the sales – they are really good. You really do get items of excellent quality at very good prices.

Such effective marketing!

Just around Christmas, people in Japan attend at least one bōnenkai (忘年会). Its literal translation being ‘Forget the year gathering‘.

It is a Japanese drinking party (with lots of food) held at the end of year with groups of co-workers or friends at an izakaya, pub, or restaurant. It is a way to informally socialize, close the year on a high note and look forward to the new year.

At the bōnenkais that I have attended, staff organized games that were Christmas themed. They even organized a little gift exchange before the party ended.

Unless otherwise stated, each person has to confirm their attendance in advance and make a contribution towards the bōnenkai – not surpassing around 5,000 yen. This covers the cost of food, prizes and drinks for the entire night.

I hope that this gave you another glimpse into daily life in Japan, and made you feel that you were experiencing the season along with many other Japanese people!

So, from JapanLime to you . . . .

M E R R Y   C H R I S T M A S!

Hiragana: めりーくりすます!

Katakana: メリークリスマス!

Romaji:  Meri Kurisumasu!

Hokkaido: Summer and its festivals

Hokkaido’s Summer Festivals

Summer, to the Japanese, means more than the humid weather and the sweltering heat.


And, as mentioned in an earlier blog that was posted ( https://japanlime.wordpress.com/2014/10/27/japan-its-weather-and-seasons/ ), the festivals vary from location to location.

In Hokkaido, it is not very different. There are similar stalls selling familiar festival treats, most persons from the area or neighbouring towns come to enjoin in the festivities . . . but there are subtle differences.


Cleanliness in the environment is always maintained!

Firstly, Hokkaido is a country that cherishes its environment and nature. Nature is very much respected and despite the occasion or the number of people there on location the area is always VERY clean.

The picture above was taken while at a festival in Kurisawa. Even though there was a lot of foot traffic, the area was spotless and free of litter and garbage.

Everyone found a bin to dispose used cups, bottles and food wrappers – and these bins were promptly emptied to avoid spillage and maintain the beauty of the festival’s location.

Furthermore, in Japan, recycling* is practised. Even at these public festivities, each individual takes the time to throw their used item in the appropriate bin assigned.

This is a behaviour and action that a lot of Trinidadians (on all levels) need to adopt. Most of the time, a sea of litter is often seen after a Trinidadian party – which, by the way, has to be cleaned by other people. But, if we all did our part, started recycling and bins are routinely cleaned; then our country would look just as a beautiful as the picture above.


Kurisawa’s Summer Festival

Kurisawa's Summer Festival

Kurisawa’s Summer Festival

Secondly, there are more stalls selling fresh produce grown by local farmers.

Hokkaido is a country that is very proud of its agriculture and love their flowers. For example, the melons from Yubari (Hokkaido) are considered the sweetest and most desired in ALL of Japan – hence the reason why it is so expensive!

These stalls would boast a variety of goods – ranging from onions and cabbages to carrots, ochro, chile peppers and tomatoes.And the prices are a lot cheaper!

Stalls selling freshly cut flowers are also a common sight at these festivals.


Besides the surprise that there was a Red Bull promotion at a local festival in Kurisawa, we all had bags of fresh produce purchased from the local farmers.

Thirdly, just as there were stalls selling grilled meat and beer, there were a number of stalls selling a variety of grilled vegetables… especially corn. This is similar to the corn that we purchase off the highway in Trinidad – all charred, smoky and oh so delicious. But the corn in Hokkaido is on a completely different level! Every bite is filled with a unique juicy sweetness that:

  1. It blows your mind and causes you to redefine the taste of corn!
  2. You swear that it was grown with sugar in the soil!

Even if you may not be a fan of corn, the corn in Hokkaido will definitely convert you!

Ending the festival at Kurisawa with a traditional dance that only females could partake in.

Ending the festival at Kurisawa with a traditional dance that only females could partake in.

Fourthly, each festival continues a tradition that is unique to the location. That is, the tradition in itself is the identity of the area.

For example, in Kurisawa, all of the females – both young and old – dance in a circle to the beat of the taiko drums (played by local elementary students) and the song being played. They have been doing this for generations!

The huge 'Mochi Pounder' that is used for the Iwamizawa Summer Festival.

The huge ‘Mochi Pounder’ that is used for the Iwamizawa Summer Festival.

On the other hand, for Iwamizawa’s Summer Festival, hundreds gather in the street, form long lines and hold thick long ropes that are attached to a colossal mochi pounder. Long ago, it was made from the trunk from a huge tree that was hollowed to facilitate the pounding of the mochi (glutinous rice that is pounded to flour and then used to make the mochi desserts that we are familiar in Japan’s popular desserts like ‘dango’). It is an event that the residents of Iwamizawa partake of yearly – as it bonds them with their past, reunites them with the present and creates new memories for the future.

Do you see how colossal this is?

Do you see how colossal this is?

One thing that I must say that stands out the most to me at these festivals (in all of Japan), is the fact that the teachers from elementary and junior high schools are there WORKING. They form groups with other schools and teachers in the area and patrol the festival area – ensuring that students are safe and not engaging in any illegal or bad activities.


My Coca Cola was present at both of the festivals in Iwamizawa: the one in the city and here by the temple.

After the Iwamizawa Festival in the city, there is another festival at the Iwamizawa Temple that ends at night.

After the Iwamizawa City’s Festival, there is another festival at the Iwamizawa Temple that ends at night.

Hokkaido’s Summer Weather

As I mentioned before, the summer in Japan is hot – very hot AND humid. Luckily the summer in Hokkaido is cooler than the rest of Japan. It is hot, but definitely not as hot, humid and sticky as Tokyo ( for example). This is due to its northern location – as evidenced by the heavy snowfall it regularly receives.

Additionally, there are a lot of mosquitoes and bugs that enter your home at this time. Purchasing a bug repellant that diffuses remedies this problem. Once the seal is removed, over time, it diffuses a scent that repels bugs. It is very effective!


The summer in Hokkaido is very short. Be sure to use it wisely!

Also, another surprise about the summer is the time of sunrise . . . about: 4:00am! You would be fooled several times upon waking up that it is after 7:00am (yes, that is how bright the sun is at that time!). So, be sure to check your clock before rushing to change your clothes and catch the bus to work – you may be too early!

Changing the curtains in the bedroom to darker ones, or investing in a sun blind for the window, would both help to ensure that you keep those extra Z’s that you so badly need to get through your coming day.

Ready for one more surprise?

The summer in Hokkaido is short – very short. About one month and a half – two if you are lucky. By the time what appears to be Autumn in Hokkaido, it is still clearly summer in the rest of Japan!

So, be sure to capitalize on your short summer in Hokkaido!

*We will talk more about recycling in Japan in another post soon!