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Christmas in Japan

Updated November 25, 2021
Christmas in Japan

While North America has its own fun Christmas traditions, Christmas traditions in Japan can be both similar and very different.

Although Christmas is celebrated as a Holiday to be enjoyed with the family and can take up a whole month in North America, Japan doesn’t equate Christmas with family and has a different way of experiencing the festivities.

Christmas wasn’t introduced to Japan as soon as it was in Europe, and because it’s a Christian holiday, it doesn’t have as much importance to the Japanese, who are not predominantly Christian.

Because Japan is often associated with things like sushi and samurai, you might find that some of their traditions are not only easy to follow but very enjoyable.

Whether it be to experience something new or to find a way to enjoy Christmas in your way, exploring Japanese Christmas traditions is an excellent way to pique your curiosity.

Why Enjoy Christmas In Japan

Christmas is a holiday that is celebrated throughout the world, and Japan is no different. Although some of their traditions aren’t very similar to the ones in North America, they are still creative ways to enjoy the Holiday season.

Christmas in Japan can be a relaxing way to spend your holiday, enjoying new traditions and having a vacation that doesn’t include family pressures.

Delicious Christmas Dinner

One of the traditions that will take many North Americans and Europeans aback will be the Japanese Christmas dinner: fried chicken. Or even more specifically, Kentucky Fried Chicken.

After World War II, the economy in Japan was doing very well. Since the Japanese were interested in Western culture, many companies brought their business to Japan, including KFC, in the 1970s.

Because the country has only a 1% Christian population, Christmas was not very big in Japan. So in 1974, KFC created a marketing line targeting Christmas, selling party buckets filled with chicken.

Some say KFC was marketed as a traditional American Christmas food to increase sales. Others argue that the first franchise owner, Takeshi Okawara, attended a Christmas gathering dressed as Santa Claus and created the hype.

In the end, it was really because of the great marketing done by KFC. By playing ads showing families eating KFC for the holidays and playing “My Old Kentucky Home,” they created a correlation between Christmas, fine dining, and fried chicken.

To this day, KFC sells millions of buckets of Japanese Christmas KFC during the holidays. It’s so popular that unless orders are made ahead of time, the people of Japan stand in lines that are hours long to bring home their Japanese Christmas dinner.

Christmas Lights and Trees

Light displays in markets and outdoor Japanese Christmas trees would take your breath away as Japan becomes beautifully lit for the holiday season. The lights are considered some of the most important Japanese Christmas decorations.

Winter illuminations are a considerable part of the history of Christmas in Japan and are considered a must-see for travelers. In addition, there are quite a few installations placed throughout the country that have massive popularity with both the locals and tourists.

The country loves illumination displays and decorates some of the most well-known landmarks with Christmas lights to celebrate the time of year.

The Kingdom of Lights is considered the largest light installation in Japan during Christmas. Located in the Nagasaki prefecture, a theme park turns into a light show with 13 million lights.

The Kingdom of Lights includes a light waterfall and is considered one of the best night attractions in Japan. In addition, Japanese Christmas trees are decorated throughout the park to increase visibility at night and provide a gorgeous landscape.

Enjoy it With Your Loved One

While throughout most of the world, Christmas is recognized as a time to be spent with family, it turns out that Japan does not see it the same way.

Because Christmas is more of a social celebration than a Christian holiday, Japan tends to focus more on friendly relationships during the season. Or, in some cases, on romantic relationships.

With Japanese Christmas, dates are a much more common way to spend Christmas Eve or even Christmas day. Couples in Japan will go out to dinner or enjoy a romantic evening indoors instead of spending time with family.

If there is no date candidate or they want to enjoy some time with their friends, many young Japanese will have a Christmas party. These parties are geared more towards spending time with your friends and exchanging gifts rather than your family.

Gift-giving is also more common between lovers or friends. In addition, exchanging gifts or having a secret Santa event is popular among younger people as they enjoy these themed parties.

Proposals are also common on Christmas Eve, as the combination of a nice dinner at a restaurant, surrounded by lights and decorations, is the perfect setup for a romantic question.

The Great Santakuro

Because Christianity is uncommon in Japan, the appearance of a Japanese Santa Claus took a long time to happen. In the 1900s, Santa Kuro first appeared in a book.

The story of Santa Kuro involved a Christian farming family from Nagano. It tells how a Christian family who spent their days farming help a fellow farmer from a neighboring village.

Later on, the farmer repays the Christian family when they have a difficult Christmas and brings them gifts, paying thanks for lending their aid to him.

Later on, the book Kodomo No Tomo was released, with a traditional story and a more traditional looking Santa Claus, dressed in his signature red and white.

This Santa Claus appears to be more Western than Santa Kuro but is slimmer than the usual North American Santa.

Later on, a samurai-style Santa Claus appeared at the Harajo School of Ginza, Tokyo, creating more significant interest in the idea of a Japanese Santa.

While the Christmas holiday isn’t as popular in Japan due to the smaller Christian population, Santa Claus, or in this case Santa Kuro, is recognized during the holiday season throughout the country as a symbol and mascot for Christmas.

Choosing Christmas Eve Over Christmas Day

While many prefer celebrating Christmas on Christmas Day, it is more popular to celebrate on Christmas Eve in Japan.

Because Christmas is seen more as a day for joy than a Christian holiday, many loved ones prefer to have romantic dinners on Christmas Eve rather than sparing some time on Christmas day.

Enjoy the Citrus of Yuzu

Yuzu is a popular Japanese citrus that is in season during the Christmas holidays. It is similar to sour citruses like lemon or limes and can be considered a Japanese Christmas orange.

Yuzu is very popular during the holiday season as it makes its appearance through different Japanese Christmas foods and sweets.

Since yuzu is typically in season from November to January, it is widespread for Japanese people to enjoy yuzu baths during the holidays.

A soothing scent is released by placing some cut yuzu into a sack and bringing it into the bath, creating a pleasant spa experience.

Thanks to the strong citrus scent, it is believed that the yuzu fruit aids in purifying the body and preventing illness during the colder months.

Japanese Christmas Cake

Kurisumaru Keki is a traditional Japanese Christmas cake. It is very similar to a strawberry shortcake and consists of a sponge cake covered in strawberries and whipped cream.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas without the Santa Claus decoration, a figurine topping the cake to bring out the Christmas spirit.

The cake became popular as it began to sell in Ginza, Tokyo. Being the central shopping district in the largest city in Japan, it was the perfect place for the cake to become recognized and gain popularity.

As Japan was exploring Western treats, the upper class enjoyed savoring the sweets styled after the delicacies from abroad. As a result, Western desserts were considered an elite treat enjoyed by those of high social status.

When the Japanese Christmas cakes became mass-produced and affordable for everyone, they became a hit with the general population.

The cakes come in all shapes and sizes and are considered the perfect dessert for a fried chicken dinner and ideal to be shared with friends or loved ones.

The Disney Christmas

When thinking of Christmas, not many consider Disney. Being a tourist spot most of the year, why would it be regarded as an excellent location for some Christmas fun?

Disney does not take Christmas lightly in Japan, and the Japanese Disney park is filled with decorations and Christmas celebrations.

Regarded as one of the best places to spend Christmas in Japan, the lights and parades are available for all those who enter the park to see and are an event that many Disney fans will not miss.

Tokyo Disneyland has the park open to Christmas celebrations from November 8th to December 25th, allowing plenty of time for visitors to attend the park for some of the Christmas Fantasy events.

Luckily, the park’s general admission includes the Christmas Fantasy fun, which means no extra fees to participate in all the Disney activities.

The fun of Disney is not lost to the Christmas couples. Being the season of love, many enjoy their Christmas dates at Disneyland, and couples dress for the occasion in beautiful formal outfits while wearing fun Christmas Disney hats.

Although Disneyland is not considered the first choice to spend Christmas with family in North America, it is a popular attraction for local Japanese residents and tourists alike.

Image credit: Pixabay

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