Happy White Day! What are some of the lesser-known Japanese traditions? | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan

Happy White Day! What are some of the lesser-known Japanese traditions?

By Tee Mar 14, 2020

So you may know about shogatsu (New Year Eve), hanami (cherry blossom viewing), Obon Matsuri (day to respect familial ancestors), and perhaps several more… but are you confident that you know all there is to know about Japanese traditions and holidays? Think again, because today we are introducing to you the five lesser-known Japanese traditions, that !

White Day vs. Valentine Day


You just spent a memorable New Year Eve with your family and friends in Japan. What’s next? It’s time to kick it up a notch with your partners and get ready for Valentine’s Day and White Day in Japan. Yes! In Japan, love is in the air for two days and the excitement does not wear off for two months. 

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is celebrated a little bit different from our common knowledge – the guys are expected to prepare for that romantic dinner night out, that big bouquet of roses, and that special Valentine’s Day gift. 

That sounds like more work for the guys, right? However, fortunately, if you are a guy and you happen to live in Japan, you will get to sit back and relax. Because on Valentine’s Day in Japan, girls will take the initiatives. Why? Because it is the girls who present gifts to guys. 

If so, what day would it be when men gave gifts to women to express their feelings? It’s on the 14th in the following month – March 14, commonly known in Japan as the “White Valentine” or “White Day.” White Valentine is the day that, according to the Japanese, is the day to return the feelings for those who have given gifts to you on Valentine’s Day. That’s why it’s called “White Day” – because you will be expressing your truest, purest feelings towards someone who has already expressed their feelings towards you the previous month. As the tradition is for guys to use this day as a way to give gifts to girls, some will use this day to confess their feelings to their crushes, even if they didn’t receive anything on Valentine’s Day.

In the past, sweets and marshmallows were a gift that many people chose to give to their Valentine’s Day gift-givers. Now there are various types of gifts that may be given instead, ranging from sweets, to 

At this time of year, at departments and the shopping centers, chocolates and various kinds of sweets can be custom made for the White Valentine’s Day. If possible, you should definitely take the time to come here and look for the most meaningful gifts for your partners. The most important point is to choose higher-quality gifts compared to the usual confectionery that you often see. For women, quality is more important than quantity, do not choose things that have a lot to offer them, that is absolutely not recommended.

In case you need to find a bar of exquisite chocolate for your unforgettable Valentine’s Day or White Day, here are the top 5 Best-Selling Chocolate Brands in Japan:

#1 Meiji

#2 Morinaga

#3 Lotte

#4 Bourbon

#5 Glico


If you are a fan of Hanami (cherry blossom viewing), you will definitely love this Japanese tradition! Gathering together to look at the moon, or “moon watching festival” – also widely known to the Japanese as Tsukimi.

1. The origin of Tsukimi

The festival usually takes place on the 15th of the 8th lunar month, around September – October of the calendar, and is an opportunity for people to enjoy the most beautiful moon night of the year. In Japan, after the storm and rain season is the start of Autumn when cool and dry breeze brings out the clearest night sky and the clearest view of the bright moon.

There is a theory that Tsukimi originates from China’s Mid-Autumn Festival. This holiday was handed down to the island nation of Japan through the delegations to the Tang Dynasty during the Heian period (794 – 1185). At first, Tsukimi was only for royalty and aristocracy, but during the Edo period (1603-1868) it was widely popular as a folk festival. The first Tsukimi holidays are organized by the people in the period after harvesting summer crops and preparing to enter the rice harvest season, with the aim of asking the gods to bring good crops to people. In that sense, Tsukimi has gone deep into the spiritual life of Japanese people.


However, there’s more to Japan’s Moon gazing festival!

It is usually held twice, with the second time in the following month – The unique feature is only available in Japan. 

In addition to the 15/8 lunar calendar, Tsukimi is held for the second time about 1 month later – on the 13th of the lunar month, this 13th night is also called the “following moon”. Japanese people believe that once watching the night moon 15, you must watch the moon on the 13th night. Because if you only watch the moon at night 15, you will surely have bad luck or disaster, this taboo in Japanese is called “Kata-tsukimi”. 


2. Where to watch the moon

It can be in the room, in the garden, on the porch or any airy place that can watch the moon most conveniently. If you choose a place where visibility is blocked, you will not be able to fully enjoy the beautiful moon night. 


3. Decorations

The most popular ornament in the Tsukimi festival is one of the seven famous kinds of grass of Japanese autumn: Mop grass (Susuki). Since ancient times, mop grass has been considered as the embodiment of the moon god, bringing prosperity to the family and helping to harvest crops. In addition, there is also a place where the sharp-pointed shape of the weed fiber is capable of repelling demons. Therefore, mop grass is also often hung in front of the house.

In addition to mop, the other ornament is usually the other six autumn kinds of grass including chi chi orchid (Fujibakama), and many other wildflowers. 

4. Homage


Tsukimi-Dango is the name of Japanese moon cake (commonly known as Dango), this is a traditional cake that is displayed on the right day of the 8th month of the lunar month. The offering of this kind of cake with the main purpose is to give to the gods, the ancestors pray for good harvests, and Japanese people also believe that they will help you become healthier and happier. 

On the night of the 15th, Japanese people often arrange about 15 Dango cakes on a plate to make offerings. However, depending on the year of the year or the leap year, there are also those who choose the number of cakes by the number of full moon nights in the year of 12 or 13 tablets or 5 tablets. On the night of September 13, we will offer 13 or 3 cakes. After the offering, you can enjoy this cake with your family. 

In addition, the offerings of other vegetables and fruits that are self-planted mean the thanks to the gods who brought the lush crops. Depending on the locality, these vegetables will be different. In particular, Japanese people believe that if the offerings of fruits like grapes, the wish will become a reality.

Painting Daruma Dolls


Learn about Japanese culture, you might have known about Daruma dolls or Daruma tumble. This is considered a lucky symbol for the Japanese. Surely, the color red and white do suggest so, but is that all there is to the Daruma’s color? Is there a deeper implication to it?

The color of the doll is also inspired by pain and death. This doll has many colors, from purple to white, depending on the production area, but most are still red. This red color is thought to be related to the color of measles and smallpox. 

Centuries ago, when smallpox and measles were the two most devastating diseases in Japan, these sick children often wore red coats. If they die, they will be wrapped in red shrouds.

Initially, these dolls created a good balance. No matter how much you knock them down, the Daruma squirts return to their original positions. Over time, this helps them become symbols of recovery. That’s why Daruma often becomes a gift to give to patients, especially children.

Have you noticed that many Daruma dolls have no eyes or only one eye painted when sold? Don’t worry, you are not buying the wrong Daruma. On buying one, you make a wish by painting the left eye first. Once the wish is fulfilled or your goal achieved, you paint the other eye. Thus, the Daruma is said to grant wishes and help you accomplish your goals. 

Toro Nagashi


Lanterns are lighting fixtures for outdoor use used in ancient Japan. “Han” in “Toro (lantern)” means bright, the word “Ro” means basket. But you may wonder, why wouldn’t they use Toro or lanterns simply as interior decorations, but rather bring them outside and let them float on water?  

The Japanese people have long been known for their respect and worship towards their ancestors. And their traditions – including the tradition of Toro Nagashi have proven that.

Especially around mid-August (sometime in mid-July) is a period called Obon with an implication of ancestor worship and Buddhism from the past to the present. At this time, families often offer special worship objects to ancestors, or to visit graves, …

At the end of Obon often with “Okuribi”, people often set fire to see off the ancestors’ souls to heaven. Dropping the lantern Toronagashi is also an Okuribi type, this expresses gratitude to the ancestors who have always protected them, and the release of lanterns along with the river or sea worship is also the practice formed from the old days, but still continues to this very day. 




The old year has passed, the new year comes again, every country, every nation has its custom to welcome its own unique new year. For Japanese people, to see the old year, welcome the new year, the traditional and cozy Bonenkai party is indispensable. 

The word “Bonenkai” literally translates into “forgetting the whole year” and it’s a party held by the companies and agencies before the New Year in order to erase the troubling worries of the old year. It is also considered a year-end meeting for their employees, as well as a thank-you party for the successful cooperation with their partners. 


1. Time and preferred locations for Bonenkai

Bonenkai does not take place on a certain day but is organized from mid-December to the end of the year. 

The space chosen to organize Bonenkai is a restaurant with a large area, open space and must bring traditional Japanese style with long tables so that people can sit and create a cozy atmosphere. In addition, many companies also choose to organize in large conference rooms, where necessary equipment such as musical instruments, sound systems, projectors … the atmosphere will be a more formal, suitable fit with big companies.

2. Menu for a Bonenkai party

Holding the meaning of a year-end party, in a Bonenkai party, a large amount of beer and wine consumed. Because the year-end time in Japan is cold, hotpot is always a very popular dish. However, no matter how large a Bonekai party is, it is indispensable for the traditional dishes that make up the soul of the party. In addition to sushi, sashimi, Japanese people often choose a dish of Toshikishi soba (buckwheat noodles), because they believe that long and long soba noodles represent luck, longevity, the continuation of success. 

The year-end Bonenkai party in Japan gives everyone in the company the opportunity to get to know each other better, to become more intimate. All the rituals, the principles of daily work become less important. Even honorifics express, which is extremely important in the relationship between the managers and the employees, can be discarded. In other words, even your bosses will advise you along with your fellow colleagues to be comfortable and change your way of calling them so that everyone is less distant. 


Now that you have known all there is to know about Japan’s 5 lesser-known traditions, share with your friends and impress them! 

Which lesser-known Japanese traditions are you going to start to implement into your life? 

Don’t forget White Day! Let your girls know you appreciate them!