Christmas in Japan

We all know it, in a few days it’s Christmas!
Yes, even here in Japan! But to be honest, most of the time I don’t even notice it’s Christmas time here. Maybe that’s just me.
Today, I want to tell you a little about how Christmas in Japan is celebrated.
Actually I live in the prefecture that first celebrated Christmas in Japan! How cool is that? :D

Christmas in Japan illumination

Illumination around Tokyo Dome in winter 2008.

Christmas does exist in Japan, but it has no religious background.
Just like other Western holidays it has been adopted and modified! As it doesn’t have a religious background and is also not an original Japanese holiday, it’s no national holiday here in Japan.
Almost everybody (including me ) has to work on Christmas!
However, December 23rd is a national holiday. This has nothing to do with Christmas, though. It just happens to be the birthday of the current “Tennou” (天皇, emperor)!


What do Japanese do on Christmas?

Well, I guess it depends, but quite common things are:
Especially Christmas Eve is considered to be for dating, so you’ll see a lot of lovey-dovey couples.
It’s also very common to eat a Christmas cake, often decorated with a cute Santa Claus figure.

Christmas in Japan, Japanese Christmas cake Christmas in Japan, Japanese Christmas cake

I have no clue where this is coming from. Japanese people (at least the ones I asked) seem to think that it’s how American people celebrate x-mas!?!?
Do they? I don’t think so.

Presents are also given .. by Santa Claus. However, he’s not coming through the chimney (99% of all Japanese houses don’t have any!!), but he’ll sneak in the bedroom of the kids and put the presents next to them while they’re sleeping. At least that’s how people do it where I live. There might be regional differences.

I find that quite creepy! Me being German, I find the idea of an old geezer coming into your house while you’re sleeping quite disturbing and creepy anyways! In Germany we also have Santa Claus, but he’s usually coming on December 6th. There’s also Black Santa.
In my part of Germany (there are regional differences) a young angel-like girl (with long blonde curly hair) is coming on Christmas Eve (usually while the family is eating their x-mas dinner). The living room (or wherever you’ve put up your tree) is locked so that the shy girl called “Christkind” (“Christ child”) won’t be scared and runs away without leaving any presents if somebody suddenly enters. Isn’t that cute?
Japanese people quite like that story whenever I tell them about it!

When you ask Japanese people what is being celebrated on Christmas, a lot of them will say “the birthday of Santa Claus” ….

Christmas in Japan is not really something where you sit together with your family and spend some calm and relaxing days.
Japan doesn’t really need that because that’s what they’ll do on “Omisoka” (大晦日, Japanese New Year’s Eve) and “Shougatsu” (お正月, Japanese New Year’s Day).
Those are national holidays (January 1st is) and can be compared to our Western Christmas!
That’s when everybody comes together, eats a feast, goes to “church” (aka visiting a shrine).

Let’s go back to the actual Christmas celebration.
With only 1-2% Christians living in Japan it’s not surprising that Christmas is only a “commercial” event.
You’ll find AWESOME illuminations all over the country, though!

Christmas in Japan illumination

Christmas illumination in Kobe 2009.

Christmas in Japan illumination Christmas in Japan

Christmas trees in Kobe and Osaka.

Christmas in Japan illumination

Christmas illumination around Tokyo Dome.

Christmas in Japan illumination

Kobe is really famous for its SUPER HUGE illumination every December. I’ve never seen it with my own eyes … YET!

Christmas in Japan illumination

To me Japanese Christmas illuminations seem less x-mas-like and romantic, but more kitschy and amusement park-like.
It’s still very nice and often each city has their own BIG illumination thingie going on!

As for x-mas decoration most Japanese houses are too small, so you won’t find huge trees that often and in 99% it’s only a plastic tree anyways.
You can find tons of cute and useful x-mas decoration even in 100yen stores (that’s where I got mine from ), so I think almost everybody has at least a little set up.
I see a lot of windows with x-mas decoration right now, too!

Christmas decoration in Japan

Most parts of Japan don’t get white Christmas. Hokkaido, some parts in Tohoku and the Chubu area usually do.

Hida Takayama in Chubu Japan

I visited the Chubu area last year in early January and in the photo above you can see how much snow there is!!

So, you do notice that it’s Christmas because of the
a) illuminations
b) x-mas songs and decorations in the department stores
c) pamphlets in your mail box featuring awesome x-mas cakes

You won’t notice it’s Christmas because:
a) there is no “Advent” countdown whatsoever
b) most of the time you’ll have to work during the most precious Christmas time
c) no “real” Christmas atmosphere (with or without snow)


How do YOU celebrate Christmas?

This post was written to be submitted to the J-Festa December 2011 Blog Carnival.
It’s my first time taking part. It’s a lot of fun and I hope I’ll be able to contribute more in the future as well.
Thanks for reading!~

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