We can all agree that Christmas and New Year Eve are our favorite parts of the year. The time of year brings with itself hope, joy, and cheer. Have you ever wondered how Christmas day in a country of 1.9 million Christians is celebrated? Read in to know what Christmas in Japan looks like!
Christmas in Japan: A Timeline
It is believed that St.Francis Xavier brought Christianity along with him in 1549. However, he had only limited success in converting people to Christianity, as you may know, only 1% of people follow Christianity in Japan.
The shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu banned Christianity religion in 1614 as they became increasingly suspicious of Christianity, and Christians were persecuted on a large scale during this period. During the Famous Meiji Restoration of 1871, when Japan opened its door to the world, it decided to give ‘religious freedom’ to its people, paving the way for the practice of Christianity.
The world-war two tainted Christmas celebrations from the year 1939-1945 as it was seen as ‘American.’ However, due to the American influence in the years succeeding the war, Christmas once again gained its lost charm! Over the years, Christmas Celebration just got bigger and better in Japan, and today the entire country gets into jolly mood during this period.
Christmas in Japan Is Different!
In a country that has less than 1% of the Christian population, Christmas day is significantly different from the USA, and U.K. Christmas in Japan is not a religious Festival; instead, it is considered to be a joyous occasion where family and friends reconnect. Due to the almost negligible Christian population, 25 December is not a national holiday. However, schools remain Close on account of festive seasons holidays, while it is a typical’ working days’ for the offices.
Do you know that Christmas Eve in Japan is like Valentine’s day? Young couples go shopping on the eve to celebrate the day, restaurants are entirely booked for the date night, and the street is filled with a lot of public displays of affection! It has been seen that a lot of people go on date hunting in the days leading to Christmas eve so that they have ‘someone’ to spend the day with, Christmas in Japan. Sounds fun, right?
If you plan to spend your Christmas in Japan, then don’t forget to grab your Japan Rail pass or Hokkaido Pass! The pass allows you ‘Free’ travel in ‘Christmas fantasy stream train,’ but don’t forget to make your reservations! The train, which runs From Hakodate Station to Onuma Koen Station, would take you to all the best places to celebrate Christmas eve and Christmas day.
What’s for Dinner?
Christmas dinner in Japan is quite different from the rest of the world. Unlike the States where dinner includes turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin or apple pie, the traditional Japanese dinner includes ‘ Kurisumasu Keiki’- (Christmas Cake), which is usually a Sponge cake with strawberries and whipped cream. Do you know, the Christmas cake is a symbol of prosperity!
After the Japanese defeat in the Second world war, American soldiers worked actively to improve the economic position of the country. It was a time of immense misery for the country, and there was hardly any food, sugary foods were extremely uncommon, the desserts that the American soldiers handed out to people were considered a luxury!
Times passed, the Japanese economy slowly rebounded. The items used to make the cake from sugar to milk became available to the middle class and were no longer only available to the ‘ privileged class.’
The cake, thus, symbolized that the lousy past was now over. Japan was on its way to a brighter future. This Christmas tradition surely adds to the merriment!
So, what do Japanese families eat for supper? KFC! Initially, the Christmas dinner in Japan was very ill-defined. But in 1970, the store manager of KFC, Takeshi Okawara, who went to become CEO of KFC Japan, came up with the idea of a Christmas ‘party barrel’ which was inspired by traditional American dinner but aimed to serve ‘fried chicken’ instead of a ‘turkey.’
There was a national level promotion in 1974 under the banner’ Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii’: Kentucky for Christmas, which made the ‘ party barrel’ immensely popular. With time, the ‘party barrel’ got redesigned as ‘Christmas dinner packages.’
According to BBC, an estimated 3.6 million families have fried chicken on Christmas day. It is the busiest time of year for KFC Japan, who has to increase its workforce to meet the increased demand. Apart from the standard packages, there are a lot of Christmas premium packages available.
So, if you wish to be a part of this Christmas tradition, pull up your socks, order your package weeks before or be ready to stand in long queues on Christmas eve. Christmas in Japan is surely unique.
You must be familiar with the hustle and bustle in Times Square during this time of the year. With all the Christmas lights, the place is undoubtedly a treat to our sore eyes. Well, Japan, will not disappoint you either! It’s a known fact that Japan has a thing for lights.
Throughout the year, you can witness some of the most astonishing light displays in the major cities and towns. Well, it only gets bigger and fancier during this period. Large scale projection mapping illuminations are immensely popular.
Japan decorates all its famous and beautiful landmarks with spectacular lights. Tokyo Station, Osaka Station, and Shinjuku station are surely a sight to delight!
The Japanese Culture does not include setting up and decorating the Christmas tree at home. Still, various malls, shopping centers display marvelously decorated Christmas trees and nativity scenes turning an ordinary shopping experience into a visual treat. Christmas in Japan is genuinely stunning!
What’s Christmas Without Shopping!
Can all agree that shopping is probably the best part of any festival? Japan has some of the best markets to shop from! From Hokkaido to Kyushu, you can find several European themed Christmas markets. From Stationery to alcohol, you name it, and you have it!
You should surely visit the Tokyo Christmas market for a more wholesome shopping experience.
But remember that Japan is a pretty expensive place, and with the celebrations lined up one after the other, You would have to spend some hefty amount! Christmas in Japan is a costly affair.
How About Gifts?
As you know, that Christmas Eve in Japan is a date night, couples frequently exchange presents and goodies on that day, but this practice is usually limited to only them. Since Christmas is not a Japanese tradition, there are no elaborate gift exchanges like in the U.S.A or any other European Country.
However, the Japanese celebrate Oseibo in December, where Coworkers exchange gifts among themselves. The New Year is a pretty big deal here like anywhere else, where family members reunite with each other and exchange gifts. Christmas in Japan surely has various twists in the tale!
Christmas Day Parade in Tokyo
Who does not love Disneyland? It is safe to say that all of us, as children, had this desire to ride on those rides and be a witness to the parade! Well, come to Tokyo, Disneyland, to live your dream.
Opened in 1983, it has a lot to offer. The ‘Christmas season’ starts from the Second Week in November and lasts till Christmas day.
The amusement park has a spectacular parade to Offer! Come on 26 December, and Disneyland gets into the new year eve fervor! It is believed that the ‘Disney –style‘ Christmas day celebration has led to Christmas in Japan being a day of merriment rather than a religious festival.
Does Santa Come to Japan?
What is Christmas without Santa Claus? Japanese children eagerly wait for Santa to visit their home on the eve and look forward to opening their presents on Christmas morning.
But unlike the Western countries, Santa is not thought to enter homes through the chimney as most houses here lack such an entrance! Santa is instead believed to be a magical ghost who appears with goodies.
We know that Christianity began in Japan around 1549 with the arrival of Saint Francis Xavier. From this period, we see the start of several small scale Christmas celebrations, But it was only in 1552 that we saw Christmas being celebrated on a large scale.
It was only in 1875 that Santa made an appearance in Japan. In a Tokyo school, a Santa Claus dressed as samurai made an appearance in the Christmas celebrations. And, in 1898, a children’s book about Santa titled ‘ Santakuro’ was published.
Some Other Facts About Christmas in Japan
In Japanese, ‘ Merry Christmas’ is greeted as ‘ Meri Kurisumasu.’ Apart from Santa Claus, Japan has another gift-binger ‘Hoteiosho,’ who is a Buddhist god and gives goodies to children; he is not directly related to Christmas. Christmas is not only the time of merriment but also a time for good deeds. Japanese Christians try to raise money during this period to help the poor and sick people.
People also send each other cards to wish each other. Japan has some of the most creative greetings cards which have displays of it’s famous and beautiful sights from Mt.Fuji to Kinkakuji temple.
Osaka Castle is a sight to behold, and during Christmas in Japan, it becomes ten times more beautiful! The Osaka Castle 3D illumination is the main attraction during this period, and surely a must-visit place.
Christmas songs take over all the charts since the beginning of December. Also, T.V. and Anime episodes during this period have a Christmas theme. If you wish to listen to classier Christmas music, you should head to Opera city near Shinjuku.
Japan is famous for its sweet delicacies, and Wagashi is one of them. This traditional sweet is loved by one and all during the Christmas Season. They come in various designs and arrays, but the desserts are made of conventional flavors – red bean, burdock root, and green tea.
This is the time to party- nightclubs are filled; there are a lot of chances for singles to take the plunge during this time. If you do not enjoy such parties, it is advisable to stay away from nightclubs in this period.
Christmas in Japan has a lot to offer!
Weather Conditions During This Time
Apart From Northern Japan and the Japanese Coast, which gets a lot of snow during this time of the year, the rest of the country experiences typically Sunny and bright November and December.
Christmas in Japan is Surely different.
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So, Pack Up the Bags!
You are used to celebrating Christmas in one particular way ever since you were born. Don’t you think, now is the time to celebrate Christmas in Japan, in a way, you had never done before?
You now have a chance to witness the iconic winter illuminations, be a spectator to the wonder that is Japan. The Osaka castle has the charm to completely blow you off! Do away with your traditional Christmas dinner and make way for the delicious Christmas cake and KFC. Add fried chicken on the menu instead of turkey this year.
And if you are single and want to end the boredom, you’ve got a chance like never before. You could meet and make friends with several people on Christmas Eve, and who knows what destiny has in store for you.
Your regular Christmas shopping trip is going to turn more exciting and fun with the beautiful decorations around to hold thy breath! Your ultimate Childhood fantasy to visit Disneyland and be a witness to the fantastic parade will get fulfilled and how Tokyo Disneyland is truly a wonderland to explore, will drive away your blues!
Christmas in Japan has a lot to offer. Despite the almost negligible Christian population, the entire country goes into Christmas fervor and merriment. Japanese surely know how to get the party going!
So, what are you waiting for, give your regular Christmas celebrations a break and come, witness, how the Christman in Japan takes place and the nation welcomes the new year! You are in for a pleasant surprise, for sure! Check out how people all over the world celebrate Christmas, click here!