Christmas in Japan

Posted on 29.01.2017


img_5515Christmas in Japan HAPPENS, just like Halloween does. But here it’s different, just like Halloween. Japan is good at appropriating international things and making them its own.

I’m writing this to share what Japanese people do that is different from what Americans and others do on the date/days surrounding December 25th. There are a lot of things, and I’ll try to break them down into categories to make it easier.

Obviously the largest difference, this is a secular holiday in Japan, if it can even be called a proper holiday. While there are Christians and others who are celebrating the reason for the season, most of the population will tell you that they
a) don’t have a religion, or
b) are Buddhist or Shinto

So all of that Jebus stuff is totally lost on the majority of Japanese people.

For those who DO practice a western religion, there are Christmas services and all of the usual events. There are churches in Japan. However, as the country itself is secular, it’s not a day or two off of work here.

The Day:
Is not a bank holiday, or a day off from work. It’s business as usual. The 23rd, however, is the previous Emperor’s birthday, so that’s a holiday and day off from work. So that’s cool.

The 25th is actually considered a ‘date night’ and ‘for couples’, so it’s a busy night for restaurant reservations, with some places going so far as BANNING couples on the night, so the other people who might be dining alone in the restaurants won’t feel bad about being single on the holiday.

There is a tradition here to have KFC and something called a Christmas cake (basically a 2-layer sponge cake with white frosting and strawberries on top) on the 25th, for Christmas.

As it goes, some time ago some foreigners celebrating Christmas couldn’t get their hands on a Turkey, so they opted for the other white bird and went to KFC instead. Here’s a helpful article from the Smithsonian magazine explaining it.

Many people will also say that this is an appropriation of post-WW2 traditions by the occupying Americans. And they’ll say that as well for the Christmas cake, which has come to represent tradition, rather than wealth (or oppression). Here’s an article from NPR discussing why Japanese people love Christmas cake these days.

Presents happen, but not to the extent that they do in the US or UK. Mom and Dad get their child ONE present (this seems to be the norm), and maybe the grandparents also get the child a gift.

There is also Santa for the young children, but not often a Christmas tree. The child tells mom and dad what they want from Santa, and the parents are supposed to relay the message. Santa’s gift is placed near the sleeping child’s head on the night of the 24th, so they wake up with the present next to them on the 25th.

For couples, it’s one present, normally. Sometimes, friends exchange gifts. But again, it’s not anything near the extent that things are done in the USA.

The Sales: 
Happen. And they’re basically the same, except people buy less presents. But there are more people.

The Decorations:
The same. And you will see a lot of public places that have been ‘illuminated’ for the holiday season. The lights might go up in November and stay up through to the New Year. It’s nice to go around and see some of them, and a lot of places like to compete to be bigger and better than others. So that part is also basically the same.

The Fucking Music Playing in the Shops: 
is also the same.


And there you have it. It feels a little half-baked when you think about the amount of decoration and festivity out on the streets and in public as compared to how people feel about the holiday in general. But hey, it’s same-y enough to get one through.