How do they celebrate Christmas in Japan?

How do they celebrate Christmas in Japan?

Christmas in Japan is a unique blend of traditional Japanese culture and Western influences, resulting in celebrations that are distinct from those in predominantly Christian countries. Unlike in the West, where Christmas is primarily a religious and family-oriented holiday, in Japan, it has taken on a more commercial and secular tone, with its own set of customs and traditions.

Christmas Illuminations

One of the most striking features of Christmas in Japan is the elaborate illuminations and light displays that adorn cities across the country. From Tokyo’s dazzling Shibuya and Shinjuku areas to the spectacular Kobe Luminarie, these light festivals draw crowds from all over, eager to experience the winter wonderland atmosphere. These displays are not just limited to commercial areas but can also be found in parks, along rivers, and at temples and shrines, blending the modern with the traditional.

Christmas Eve

In Japan, Christmas Eve is often considered more important than Christmas Day. It is viewed as a romantic holiday, similar to Valentine’s Day in the West, where couples spend time together, exchange gifts, and enjoy romantic dinners at restaurants. Many hotels and restaurants offer special Christmas Eve dinners, and reservations often need to be made well in advance due to the high demand.

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(Photo by Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images)

KFC for Christmas Dinner

One of the most unusual traditions is the Japanese custom of eating Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) on Christmas. This tradition started in the 1970s after a successful marketing campaign by KFC Japan. It has since become so popular that orders for the special Christmas KFC meal often have to be placed weeks in advance. The meal typically includes chicken, a salad, and a Christmas cake, making for a unique festive feast.

Christmas Cake

Speaking of Christmas cake, this is another special feature of the holiday in Japan. Unlike the rich, fruit-laden Christmas cakes of the UK, Japanese Christmas cakes are typically light, sponge cakes decorated with whipped cream, strawberries, and festive decorations. Buying or making a Christmas cake to share with family or friends is a popular tradition, symbolizing a sweet end to the year.

Gifts and Decorations

Gift-giving is part of the Christmas celebration in Japan, though it tends to be more modest compared to Western standards. Presents are usually exchanged between close friends and couples, with a focus on the thoughtfulness of the gift rather than its value. Decorations in homes and public spaces include Christmas trees, lights, and ornaments, but these are usually taken down immediately after Christmas to prepare for New Year’s celebrations, which are more significant in Japanese culture.

Christmas in Japan is a fascinating example of how a foreign holiday can be adapted and embraced by a different culture, taking on its own unique characteristics. While the religious aspect of Christmas is not the focus, the season is marked by joy, light, and togetherness, drawing on both Western traditions and Japanese customs. It’s a time of year that highlights the global nature of Christmas while showcasing Japan’s ability to blend the new with the old, creating celebrations that are both familiar and uniquely Japanese.

Non-Christian Observance

It’s important to note that the majority of Japanese people are not Christian, and as such, Christmas does not hold the same religious significance as it does in many Western countries. The holiday is more cultural and commercial, celebrated without the religious ceremonies and traditions. Instead, it’s an opportunity to spread happiness, share gifts, and enjoy the festive season’s decorations and lights.

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Christmas Markets

Inspired by European traditions, Christmas markets have also started to become popular in Japan. These markets feature stalls selling Christmas ornaments, gifts, mulled wine, and festive foods. They provide a taste of European Christmas culture and are a place where people can enjoy the holiday atmosphere. Tokyo, Osaka, and Sapporo, among other cities, host these markets, offering a blend of Japanese and European holiday traditions.

Concerts and Events

During the Christmas season, many concerts and events are held across Japan, featuring both Japanese and international artists. These range from classical music concerts and choir performances to pop and rock shows. Theme parks like Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan also hold special Christmas parades and shows, making them popular destinations during the holiday season.

Volunteering and Charity

Though not as widespread, there’s a growing trend in Japan to engage in volunteer activities and charity work during the Christmas season. This is seen as a way to give back to the community and help those in need, reflecting the global spirit of goodwill associated with Christmas.

The Impact of Christmas on Japanese Culture

Christmas in Japan illustrates the country’s openness to adopting and adapting foreign customs, making them uniquely their own. It also reflects Japan’s love for seasonal events and celebrations, adding Christmas to its rich tapestry of festivals throughout the year. The holiday serves as a testament to Japan’s ability to balance modernity with tradition, and international influence with domestic culture.

New Year’s Preparations

Finally, the immediate shift from Christmas to preparing for New Year (Shogatsu) is a unique aspect of the Japanese holiday season. After Christmas, the focus quickly turns to the New Year, which is the most important holiday in Japan. Homes are cleaned thoroughly in a tradition known as “osoji,” decorations are switched to New Year motifs, and preparations begin for the first shrine visit of the year, known as “hatsumode.”

Christmas in Japan may lack the religious context found in other parts of the world, but it is celebrated with a joy and enthusiasm that is uniquely Japanese. From romantic Christmas Eves to festive KFC dinners, and from dazzling illuminations to quiet acts of charity, the holiday season in Japan is a blend of the whimsical, the commercial, and the traditional. It’s a fascinating example of cultural adaptation and the global nature of Christmas celebrations.