There are various claims that Valentine's Day and White Day customs are retailer inventions in Japan and neighbouring countries.
One is that Valentine's Day is a retailer invention:
In Japan, Morozoff Ltd. introduced the holiday for the first time in 1936, when it ran an advertisement aimed at foreigners. Later in 1953 it began promoting the giving of heart-shaped chocolates; other Japanese confectionery companies followed suit thereafter. In 1958 the Isetan department store ran a "Valentine sale". Further campaigns during the 1960s popularized the custom.
Another is that the tradition of women giving chocolates to men (rather than the opposite in western countries) is the result of a translation error by one of the retailers:
The custom that only women give chocolates to men appears to have originated from the translation error of a chocolate-company executive during the initial campaigns. [the citation given repeats the claim, but isn't confident that the claim is actually true]
Another source (So, what the heck is that? White Day) contradicts this, giving a different explanation to why it's girls giving to boys:
The concept finally took off in the 1970s when marketers began promoting inexpensive valentine chocolates as a means for schoolgirls to express their interest in a boy without having to say so in words.
And another is that the name "White Day" is a retailer invention:
In the 1980s the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association launched a successful campaign to make March 14 a "reply day", where men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine's Day, calling it White Day for the color of the chocolates being offered. A previous failed attempt to popularize this celebration had been done by a marshmallow manufacturer who wanted men to return marshmallows to women.
The "So, what the heck is that? White Day" column gives even more details on the conspiracy:
In the course of my research I came across a photo of the original planning committee. I don't know what I was expecting -- a female conspiracy? -- but I was somehow disappointed to see that the great minds behind White Day were just typical oyaji (middle-aged men), a cabal of gray suits at the Keio Plaza Hotel. According to the official White Day Web site, the committee chose the name "White Day" because white is the color of purity, and they hoped to evoke images of pure, sweet teen love. It helped that white is also the color of sugar, the main ingredient of chocolate.
Are these related claims (that Valentine Day was retailer created, that women giving to men was the result of a translation error, and that White Day was a concept created by retailers) true?
Why am I skeptical?
- I've encountered other bogus claims about holidays being created by retailers: Was the modern Santa Claus created by CocaCola? and Is Mother's Day an invention of florists? . See also the sarcastic comment "No doubt, Black Day [a celebration in South Korea on April 14] is just a ploy by the powerful Korean noodle industry." in White Day: Japan’s Answer To Valentine’s Day
- For a "Hallmark Holiday" (Wikipedia actually puts "Hallmark Holiday" in White Day's "See also"), the greeting card industry doesn't get much activity around Valentine's day or White Day. If they were retailer-invented holidays, wouldn't the greeting card industry get a cut of the action?
- For a retailer-created holiday, Valentine's Day has become very sophisticated and Japanese. As well as honmei-choko (本命チョコ, favorite chocolate) which is chocolate given to your love, there's giri-choko (義理チョコ, obligation chocolate) given to male co-workers, chō-giri choko given to unpopular male co-workers, and tomo-choko (友チョコ, friendship chocolate) given to friends, especially female ones. Would a made-up holiday become that sophisticated?
- If the claim about "White Day" is to be believed, a marshmallow company tried and failed (in the short term) to sell marshmallows on a day, but succeeded in starting the idea of "White Day"?