Buddhism and Shintoism are major religions in Japan, but it doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate Christmas.
In fact, the Japanese tend to be not strict themselves being religious included me so we enjoy Christmas as an annual event to have fun.
It is more than a religious meaning nor as a holiday for gathering family.
Since it isn’t a national holiday in Japan, so we don’t say “Christmas holiday”. Because “New Year’s Holiday” is more important customly.
However, you will find many things associated with Christmas such as cute decorations, Christmas cute sweets, and incredible beautiful lights.
celebrate…have fun to spend Christmas in very unique traditions which differ a lot in other countries.
I am going to tell you what generally the Japanese do in the Christmas season that you may feel a little weird.
What Is Christmas Called In Japan
Christmas is called “Kurisumasu” (クリスマス) in Japanese.
As same as you do, we call Christmas eve “Kurisumasu Ibu” (クリスマス・イブ).
As I said, it is not a National holiday so we don’t say Cristmas holiday in Japan.
By the way, it has a chance to become a long weekend according to the calendar because the day of 23 is a national holiday.
When we talk about the point of view of the Japenese custom, we don’t exchange Christmas cards with each other because New Year’s tradition is waiting, which is exchanging New Year’s postcards.
Yet, kids and girls enjoy exchanging Christmas cards.
The Japanese often use “X’mas” instead of “Christmas”, and even they don’t know it is wrong and only the Japanese understand the word.
Become Crazy To Get Christmas Cake
A Christmas cake is a special decoration cake for, especially on Christmas days (24 and 25.) During the Christmas season, the patisseries and stores become extremely busy.
Eating a “Christmas cake” with family, friends, or partners is the Christmas tradition in Japan.
Not like traditional Christmas sweets around the world, Japanese Christmas cakes are commonly a French-style sponge cake-based strawberry shortcake. (*Japanese patisserie is heavily influenced by the French style.)
Any market that handles “Christmas cakes” in this season such as patisseries, department stores, grocery stores, online shops, and convenience stores compete for their sales, you can see advertisements, posters, and flyers everywhere.
Since the Japanese are a little crazy to get a special Christmas cake limited edition from popular luxury patisseries, they make new Christmas decoration cakes every season. Customers often need to book to buy one in advance. (and it is not cheap.)
The scene has been decreased but you still can see fake Santas sell a pile of Christmas cakes on the streets.
A Brief History Of A Christmas Cake In Japan
Japanese sweets and restaurant chain “Fujiya” started selling Christmas decoration cakes in 1910, and it is said that eating Christmas cakes has become popular nationwide since then.
Japanese “Cute” Christmas Decorations
As you can see, Japanese Christmas decorations are very simple. Even Christmas trees are much smaller compared with Americans.
Since IKEA has been in Japan, some people enjoy Japanese-size (a very tiny) real Christmas trees recently, but most people own fake trees or even don’t.
Speaking of Christmas decorations, they differ from Western countries.
Japanese decorations are “cute” more than “traditional”. When you go to 100 yen shops in Japan, you can see many “Cute” items for Christmas decorations.
Repeatedly, there is no religious tradition for the Japanese (except for those who have the religion to celebrate Christmas), so decorations are mainly for kids.
Just enjoy the atmosphere.
Besides, new year’s day is more important for Japanese people so they don’t decorate Christmas much, mostly the only families who have kids do so.
Spend Romantic Time With Partners
In Japan, Christmas eve and the day are mainly for couples.
Christmas is for the family only while kids are small, but generally, kids over teenagers tend to prefer to spend friends or partners.
Generally speaking, young couples are getting excited to plan for something romantic for the special 2 days.
Going on the trip together, having a special Christmas dinner at the luxury restaurant or staying home with only 2 of them and eat the Christmas cake, and exchange pricy gifts with each other.
The popular spots to spend the romantic time for Christmas days,
- Tokyo Disney Land
- Universal Studio Japan
- Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse
- Winter illuminations
- Onsen Trip
- Home Party for only two
- And so on…
Therefore, young people who don’t have a partner try or wish to find one by Christmas day.
As the Japanese say, spending time lonely on Christmas eve and the day is called “Kuri-Bocchi” (クリぼっち), which comes from “Christmas” + “Hitori Bocchi” (meaning alone).
Enjoy Winter Illumination
A Winter illumination is a popular seasonal event throughout Japan.
Spectacular twinkling light shows are held in popular cities and visiting these places is one of the attractions during the winter season.
Recently, projection mapping shows have also become popular, Osaka castle is one of the popular places to visit.
Around Christmas time, there are many couples to see the illumination to spend romantic time in only their world.
Popular Winter Illumination Places In Japan
- SHIBUYA PARK
- Tokyo Midtown
- Osaka castle park (OSAKA)
- Kobe Luminarie(KOBE)
- Nabana no Sato(MIE)
- Nijo-Castle (KYOTO)
The Japanese Christmas Feast; Chicken Or KFC
Chicken dishes are a classic Christmas feast in Japan.
Just because Chicken is much common than turkey, so it is easy to get chicken, and also turkey is too big to cook in a Japanese oven. (I mean it is impossible.)
Usually, people buy roasted chicken legs from the deli section at grocery stores.
There are many chicken dishes but roasted chicken legs are proffered.
Usually, the Japanese buy them from the deli section at grocery stores, and not so many people cook a whole chicken at home since the roasted whole chicken has not so common until COSTCO came to Japan.
I met my husband when I was 33, I had not ever seen cooking a whole chicken at home.
It is almost a famous truth, Kentucky Fried Chicken is a very popular Christmas dinner menu in Japan.
It is said that a foreign customer came to buy fried chicken as a Christmas dinner because he couldn’t find turkey in Japan in the 1970’s. The manager got an idea from this story to promote fried chicken as Christmas dinner.
Around the Christmas season, you can see KFC TV commercials a lot of “Christmas barrel”, which has several dishes and trinkets in one barrel.
Every time I watched KFC commercial, I felt like “Christmas is in the air.”
Staple Christmas Songs In Japan; Holley! Mariah Carey!
Mariah Carey’s song, “All I want for Christmas is you ” is a staple Christmas song in Japan since it was the theme tune of a Japanese TV drama in 1994.
You can hear there three songs, “All I want for Christmas is you”, “Last Christmas”, and “Christmas eve” (Japanese singer-songwriter, Tatsuro Yamashita) A LOT around the Christmas season.
Staple Christmas Movies In Japan
After TV streaming has been popular, not so many imported movies have not on TV in Japan. Yet, we have staple movies to watch on Christmas as one of the traditions.
- HOME ALONE
- Miracle on 34th Street
- The Nightmare Before Christmas
- The Polar Express
- Love Actually
- The Family Man
When I was a kid, “Never Ending Story”, “HOME ALONE 1 & 2”, “Die Hard 1, 2, 3” was always on for the Christmas special program. Hehe.
Also, there are lots of Anime and TV programs that have special Christmas series. Now I remember I enjoyed Christmas at home when I was a kid.
Christmas Party With Friends At Izakayas
Kuri-bocchis gather and drink to have fun on Christmas day.
Many Izakayas and restaurants have special menus for Christmas parties moreover, it is also “Bonenkai season” which is a drinking party that takes place before the New year’s holiday.
So better to book a table if you visit Japan during Christmas season.
Some restaurants and Izakayas maybe reject customers who will not reserve tables and also the customers must order a Christmas special menu.
You may want to make sure of these things while visiting Japan at Christmas time through the New year’s holiday.
The Japanese family doesn’t have an event to exchange and open Christmas gifts together like other cultures do, except for kid’s party.
Generally, parents buy gifts for kids secretly and place gifts on the bedside while sleeping.
Kids believe Santa Claus exists, so they are so excited to go to bed on Christmas eve.
Japanese kids don’t put cookies and milk for Santa Claus. (I believe many people don’t know it.)
Time Still Has Been Changing…
Those traditions that I talk about today are mostly things what I had done when I was in Japan.
Due to the increase of international residents in Japan and also internet media, the Japanese are not hesitating to be Westernized.
Like I said, even many things have changed compared with those I had in my childhood.
So I am going to keep following up on Japanese new unique Kurisumasu traditions!