This coming Friday, March 14, is Howaito Dei (White Day), when males follow the custom of reciprocating the Valentine’s Day chocolates (or other gifts) they received a month earlier.
The nature of the o-kaeshi (reciprocal gift) depends largely on the category of relationship between giver and recipient. Chocolates, for example, would be classified as honmei-choko or giri-choko.
The former, honmei, derives from a horse-racing term that means the probable winner or an odds-on favorite, and is humorously used to describe a serious relationship.
Giri are those in the also-ran category, or who merely return the gal’s gift out of a sense of duty or social courtesy.
Customarily, the soba (market price or going rate) for a White Day gift is said to call for sanbai-gaeshi (three-fold reciprocation), that is, the male should be prepared to shell out for approximately three times the value of whatever he had received on Valentine’s Day.
In the current issue of Dime (March 18), a biweekly magazine that monitors the latest trends, the Printemps Ginza boutique noted the average Feb. 14 outlay by its female customers for their honmei gift was ¥3,050 — which means that to be on the safe side, a fellow should be prepared to fork out ¥9,150 by this coming Friday.
But what to buy? In another survey by online food retailer Oisix, Inc., the three items most craved by honmei females on White Day were accessories (boutique goods, jewelry, etc.), stated by 28 percent of respondents, followed by sweets (27 percent) and to be taken out to dinner (17 percent).
For the giri gals, 34 percent said they would be contented with cookies, 16 percent mentioned other types of sweets and 11 percent chose chocolates.
That said, devoting too much attention to material goods carries other risks. Yes, it’s probably a good idea to exchange gifts on White Day. But on the other hand, being attentive and considerate counts for a lot as well.
Unfortunately, that’s often just as complicated.
In its March 4 edition, Spa!, a weekly magazine popular with readers of both sexes, ran an article titled ” ‘Otoko no sono shinsetsu, iran ai!’ no shogeki.” This can be loosely translated as “Take your chivalry, guys, and shove it!”
This can extend to gift-giving as well. Cartoonist Nameko Shinsan (a nom de plume meaning “a girl who licks bitter and sour”) advises Spa!’s male readers against being “too” generous. “Sweets may be easy to buy, but they’re all high in calories,” she says. “So even if the gift is appropriate, a girl won’t be happy to receive too much of something.”
The gist of the Spa! article maintains that women today no longer expect, or appreciate, gallant treatment from male friends and colleagues. They are not particularly happy when a gentleman stops the elevator door from closing so she can get in; when he opens the car door for her; when he helps her with her coat; or invites her to share an umbrella to keep from getting wet (when it isn’t even raining that hard).
The term for mildly irritating acts of misplaced kindness is arigata-meiwaku. The word combines arigatai (thankful or obligated) and meiwaku (troublesome or annoying). A good equivalent would be “Thanks for nothing.”
“Shinsetsu-gokoro yori mo, dare ga suru ka ga daiji nano ka? (Isn’t who does it more important than [their] kindness of heart?)” Spa! asks rhetorically.
Indeed, even coming up with a bon mot for White Day requires planning and preparation. While browsing online not long ago, I came across an amusing book titled “Home-kotaba, Kenashi-kotoba Jiten (Words of Praise, Words of Condemnation)” by Nobue Nagano (Shogakukan, 2005).
Nagano’s book is chock-full of words of praise (and their antitheses) for one’s better half. These include koi-nyobo and koi-zuma (loving wife); ryosai-kenbo (good wife and wise mother); naijo no ko (the secret of a man’s success); kenfujin (a smart wife); and sewa-nyobo (a wife who looks after you).
A devoted couple is referred to as oshidori fufu (Mandarin duck couple). Another reminder of the endurance of human relationships in less affluent times is soko no tsuma (a chaff and bran wife), from the old saying “soko no tsuma wa do yori kudasazu (a wife taken in poverty should never be abandoned).” It harks back to the tough times when a young couple starting out in life even lacked the means to consume white rice, let alone milk chocolates.