Love Fests In Japan: Black Day is FRIDAY

You thought you had MONTHS to think about Valentine’s Day … But no, the festivities aren’t even close to being over. In Japan and many other East Asian countries, the annual lovey-dovey fiasco gets stretched out into a 2-holiday ordeal (3 in Korea!).

Valentine’s Day, February 14th 

The story is that when advertising executives first decided to introduce Valentine’s Day to Japan, a minor translation error reversed the gender roles–instead of men giving chocolates to their girlfriends and wives, Valentine’s Day was marketed in Japan as a time for women to give chocolate to the men in their lives. This tradition stuck and is still practiced today, about a hundred years down the line, where Japanese women agonize over how much chocolate to prepare and distribute to each man in their lives; the term giri-choko (義理チョコ) describes the obligatory chocolate many women give to all their male co-workers, whereas actual loved ones may receive honmei-choko (本命チョコ), literally “true feeling chocolate.” In the weeks leading up to February 14th, department stores, supermarkets, and confectionary stores fill their aisles with DIY chocolate kits, frilly packing options, and more, reminding Japanese women of their Valentine’s duties.

White Day, March 14th

White Day, celebrated one month after Valentine’s, arose in 1978 as a response to Valentine’s Day. After almost half a century of Japanese women giving unreciprocated chocolates, men finally began participating in this “response holiday,” giving gifts of chocolate, cookies, jewelry, and flowers to women who had presented them with chocolate one month earlier. Lucky for ladies, the general rule behind this reciprocation is sanbai gaeshi (三倍返し), that the men’s gifts must be two or three times the worth of the Valentine’s gift.

Black Day, April 14th

Although many neighboring countries–South Korea, Taiwan, China–embraced the Japanese style of celebrating Valentine’s and White Day, South Korea added yet another holiday into the mix–Black Day. Black Day is a day of commiserating among single individuals who did not receive gifts to gather together and eat (sounds like a normal weekend for me). Festivities among those who celebrate may include wearing black, eating black-colored foods, and complaining with each other about the lack of intimacy in their lives.

Black Day is soon approaching (and I hope all the single folks out there use this excuse to treat yourselves!) and prompts the question of whether Black Day festivities will spread across Asia as modern Korean culture booms in popularity. Additionally, the gendered aspects of Asian Valentine’s Day and White Day are extremely heteronormative–as gender fluidity and alternative sexual identities become more common in modern society, how will these holidays be affected? Is the increasing prevalence of “herbivore men” in Japan messing with the dynamics of how these holidays are traditionally observed? Only time will tell…

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