Christmas in Japan
In numerous countries including Japan, Christmas is celebrated at the end of each year as a joyous occasion. But owing to cultural differences, Christmas in Japan is celebrated differently from the rest of the world. Here are 8 such ways.
1. Christmas Eve is celebrated more than Christmas Day
In Japan, Christmas Eve is traditionally celebrated more than Christmas Day, unlike most countries. On 24th December, the streets of Japan are more crowded with couples admiring the winter illuminations together, and restaurant reservations are more abundant.
This is because the Japanese celebrate the festive season purely as an occasion to spread happiness, rather than for the Christian belief that 25th December marks the birth of Jesus Christ.
Image credit: Kyoto Animation/IMDb
Consequently, Christmas Day is not a national holiday in Japan, and Japanese people typically report to work as usual on 25th December.
2. Christmas symbolises romance instead of family
Image adapted from: Daume Co., Ltd.
Unlike other parts of the world, where Christmas is viewed as a familial occasion, Christmas in Japan represents the ultimate romantic time of the year for couples. Conversely, in Japan, New Year’s Day is more commonly associated with family gatherings rather than snogging your crush when the clock strikes midnight.
Image credit: TMS Entertainment/IMDb
As a result, Christmas in Japan is also fondly known as the Japanese Valentine’s Day, which explains why several Japanese romance films, dramas, anime, and even manga include Christmas as one of the storyline’s important turning points.
Image adapted from: Brain’s Base Co., Ltd.
For example, the Kaguya-sama: Love is War -The First Kiss That Never Ends movie, which recently premiered in Japan on 17th December, depicts the main protagonists finally becoming more open about their romantic feelings towards each other as Christmas approaches.
3. KFC instead of turkey
Turkey is an indispensable part Christmas dinner across the globe, but not in Japan. The Japanese traditionally eat KFC for dinner during Christmas, and that’s all due to an old advertisement by the fast food franchise that was inspired by a foreigner’s passing remark.
Image adapted from: Brain’s Base Co., Ltd.
The story goes that a particular KFC branch in Japan once welcomed a foreign customer who ordered tons of chicken to replace turkey for his Christmas dinner since the bird dish was locally scarce then. KFC then decided to advertise itself as the go-to for Christmas food, and the gimmick became a hit among the Japanese.
Image adapted from: KFC/Psyop
Till today, KFC remains especially popular during Christmas, gaining up to 10 times more sales during the special occasion compared to a regular day. In 2019, sales reached a record high of ¥7.1 billion yen (~USD$52,404,035).
4. Strawberry shortcakes replace log cakes
Aside from spreading happiness, Christmas in Japan also marks the post-world war period of economic growth, when desserts became more affordable. To commemorate this joyous event, the Japanese eat cakes during Christmas.
Image credit: Bones Inc./everythingofouran
However, unlike the majority of countries that celebrate Christmas with log cakes, Japan sees strawberry shortcakes as the go-to cake for the festive season.
Image adapted from: A-1 Pictures Inc.
Since strawberry shortcakes consist mainly of red and white – the colours of the Japanese flag – they are eaten to reminisce the national joy of economic recovery after an all-time-low.
5. Christmas boots, not stockings
While traditional Christmas celebrations see stockings filled with candies and chocolates, the Japanese are more used to using Christmas boots for the same purpose.
Image credit: Koei Trade Co., Ltd.
In 2019, Starbucks Japan took inspiration from this practice and launched a beverage called Santa Boots Chocolate Frappuccino.
Santa Boots Chocolate Frappuccino.
Image credit: Starbucks Corporation
The drink is sprinkled with toppings and contains an edible cookie straw, mimicking the sweet joy of opening up a Santa boot and obtaining lots of candy.
6. Presents are placed in the bedroom, not under a Christmas tree
According to traditional Christmas tales, Santa Claus secretly enters through the chimney to deliver presents. But since the majority of houses in Japan don’t have chimneys, Japanese children are told several alternative versions of this tale.
Image credit: @poke552.ao
One common story is that Santa Claus enters through the window to leave presents in the bedroom.
Others say that Santa Claus enters through the front door using a magical key that unlocks all doors, a concept possibly derived from the popular cartoon Doraemon – the titular robot cat has a magic pocket that contains everything and anything.
7. One present per child
Speaking of gift-giving, it’s fairly common across the globe to bless children with several presents each and to fill the base of the Christmas tree. However, in Japan, children are more often than not only promised 1 gift – that’s also why their wish list usually only contains a single item.
Image adapted from: TMS Entertainment/IMDb
The reason behind this one–present–per–child tradition during Christmas is likely due to a need save the money for the otoshidama (御年玉; monetary gift) during New Year’s, which is a much bigger event than Christmas in Japan.
Furthermore, there’s already a more established end-of-year gift-giving event in Japan called oseibo (お歳暮), where the Japanese give presents to those whom they appreciated for the past year.
8. Christmas-themed wagashi instead of gingerbread cookies
During Christmas, gingerbread cookies that are prettily decorated with icing are pretty much de rigueur.
However, the Japanese enjoy wagashi (和菓子), which are traditional Japanese sweets typically made from ingredients such as mochi (餅; Japanese rice cake) and bean paste, and served with matcha.
Image credit: @hongo.miharado
These Christmas-themed wagashi come in various shapes and designs, including reindeers, Christmas trees, and Santa Claus.
The different colours of the wagashi are completely derived from natural ingredients. For example, the white colour of snowman-themed Japanese traditional sweets comes from white bean paste.
Celebrating Christmas in Japan
Image credit: @paper_matsumo
Although traditional celebrations differ across countries, Christmas is universally welcomed as a season of joy. On your next trip to Japan during this festive season, consider trying out these 8 ways that Christmas in Japan is celebrated. For a start, why not get a strawberry shortcake instead of a log cake for a change?
Also check out:
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- 16 facts about Takeru Satoh, the male lead in First Love
- 7 Tohoku onsen villages that are stunning in winter
- Mining town with preserved Meiji era buildings
- 25 Japanese romance movies to binge-watch
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