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What Is Christmas Like In Japan?

Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! It’s that time of the year again. The time of peace and love, lights, presents and spending time with your family. Being such a big event in the western world christmas has also made it’s way into Japan. Europeans often call Japanese chistmas overcommercialised. But is that actually true? What is christmas actually like in Japan? I spent christmas here and was quite surprised!

How Christmas Got To Japan

Japan isn’t a christian country. The two most popular religions are Shinto and Buddism though many people aren’t really religious and only practice certain rituals due to the cultural aspect. So how has christmas found it’s way into Japan?

A christmas tree in a shopping centre.

Christmas was introduced to Japan by big western brands like KFC (which I will cover later) to boost their sales. Just like in europe christmas, especially christmas eve gets heavily advertised. Here in Japan even more so. Companies make christmas seem as a romantic night, where you go out for dinner, buy a present for your girlfriend and basically spend money. That’s also why the place where you will find the most christmas decoration are shopping centres. But is there more to Japanese christmas than pure commercialism?

What Is Christmas Like In Japan?

Besides shopping and having a romantic dinner with your partner like in the advertisements on TV, christmas in Japan is basically four things:

Chicken

The KFC christmas campagne image
The KFC ad-campagne for 2018

Kind of the most important part of christmas in Europe is family dinner. That’s what the Japanese see in movies and want to copy. So how can you enjoy a great family dinner, you ask? KFC has the answer! 1974 they launched an advertising campagne promoting fried chicken as a typical christmas meal. And since then Kentucky Fried Chicken and various other chicken dishes have found their way into Japanese christmas.

Christmas Cake

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The christmas cake or kurisumasu ke-ki how it’s called in Japanese, is another important part of the Japanese christmas eve. It’s basically a sponge cake with whipped cream often topped with stawberries and christmas decoration. You can buy kurisumasu ke-ki in almost every super market in various forms. Just like the chicken, the cake is something Japan imported from the west and made their own.

Illuminations

Lights at the JR-Osaka station.

Maybe the best part about christmas are all the lights. They make the cold winter feel just a bit warmer. But in Japan they are definetely the best thing about christmas. Huge buildings, whole stations even castles will be lit up and decorated for christmas. They are crazy about their lights. From blue to green, to red, from bright, shiny and blinking to calm, yellow lights like in the west, you see everything.

At Illuminations you may also find christmas markets, like the German Christmas Market at the Umeda sky building. Which actually feels like a typical german christmas market. You can buy, various types of sausages, beer, ginger bread, mulled wine and even “German Pizza”. But jokes aside you can find everything you’d expect from a typical christmas market.

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Show

Japanese people love shows. And that reflects in how they celebrate christmas. Every major amusement park makes a big show out of it, with big fireworks, lights, music and other things. In shopping centres there will be someone singing christmas songs, mascots wearing christmas clothes, etc. Christmas here generally feels more like a show, rather than a peaceful, quiet festival that it is (more or less) in Europe.

Christmas mascots at Osaka station.

So How is it?

It’s definetely not the same as in Europe, but Japan made their own little christmas festival. Which is quit fun. I like the aspect of eating chicken, going to illuminations and everything feels a bit lighter than in Europe. It feels a bit happier. It’s very interesting to see how other cultures interprete christmas. And I liked my christmas dinner with my host family. I definetely had to search a bit for myself to get into christmas mood, but seeing Japanese people dressed up as santa claus at a train station and giving presents to children made me feel very happy. And it also made me enjoy my Japanese christmas eve, even if I’m happy to spend my next one back in Switzerland, without all that bling bling that Japan adds to it.

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There even was a christmas/year end party at my local international centre. And I like to see how the Japanese are so fond of this western thing and adopt it even if it has basically nothing to do with their culture. So many foreigners say that christmas in Japan is horrible. And I thought the same thing, but after spending christmas eve actually here, I think that it’s actually quiet the opposite and something you should once experience by yourself.

What is christmas like where you are from?

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