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How Japanese Celebrate Christmas? | 7 Ways Christmas in Japan Is Celebrated

how japanese celebrate christmas

Christmas day in Japan is not a holiday or considered a religious day. So how Japanese celebrate Christmas in Japan?

Forget stockings and turkey! In Japan, Christmas is a sparkling, romantic night for couples. Feast your eyes on dazzling illuminations, savor a plate of fried chicken, and indulge in the must-have Christmas cake.

Let’s explore how Japan puts a unique spin on this festive season.

How Japanese Celebrate Christmas?

The Japanese celebrate the eve of Christmas more than the actual Christmas day. On Christmas eve in Japan, couples spend precious time together and exchange gifts. 

  shop from japan  

Unlike the West, Christmas in Japan is a romantic occasion! Couples enjoy fancy Christmas Eve dinners, followed by strolls under festive lights.

Christmas cake, a fluffy strawberry shortcake, takes center stage for dessert. New Year’s, not Christmas, is the bigger family holiday in Japan.

couples and christams in japan

Couples Celebrate Christmas in Japan by Going on a Date

Christmas is considered a Christian holiday all across the world. However, it is treated quite differently in Japan. It is a secular celebration and is celebrated even if you are not Christian. 

In fact, you will not find many people in Japan who consider themselves Christians. But the Christmas holidays are enjoyed by people all across the nation. 

One of the major differences that make Christmas in Japan different from the rest of the world is that here, Christmas is a holiday for lovers. It is not the time for family gatherings; that gathering is done on the New Year’s holiday. 

On Christmas Eve, couples plan a good time together. They go for a romantic dinner date or just stroll together to see the beautiful Christmas lights. 

But if you have a particular religious significance attached to Christmas, there are churches that offer Christmas mass. You can find these churches in any major city in Japan. 

Related: Guide to Japanese Culture Day

Kids get Presents from Santa Claus on Christmas 

Santa Claus is a concept and tradition that makes Christmas fun and exciting time for both children and adults. It happens the same in Japan. On Christmas, Japanese kids look forward to getting presents from Santa Claus. 

On Christmas, couples also exchange gifts. However, unlike western countries, gift-giving is not such a huge affair in Japan. 

In western culture, it is believed that Santa Claus enters the homes by climbing down the chimneys. This is not the same in Japan because you will not find many homes here that have chimneys. However, Japan has its own version. 

gifts for kids during christmas in japan

As per the Japanese, Santa is seen as some kind of a magical ghost that comes to visit you with gifts. 

What happens on Christmas Eve in Japan?

The day before Christmas is known as Christmas Eve. In the west, people normally spend this day with their family. 

In Japan, however, this day holds a whole different meaning. Yes, it is a way of celebration for the Japanese as well, but they do not spend this time with their families. 

couples celebrating christmas in japan

In Japan, Christmas Eve is like a second Valentine’s Day. It is the day that the Japanese love to spend with their lovers. The couples plan a beautiful day/evening with their better half. 

Couples go on a beautiful walk while admiring the mesmerizing Christmas illumination that fills the streets. They also organize romantic dinner dates and exchange gifts. This is a beautiful and splendid time for couples. 

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Related: Guide to Kodomo No Hi: Celebrating Japanese Children’s Day

What do the Japanese do on Christmas?

In Japan, Christmas is not a traditional holiday, but it has gained popularity. People enjoy Christmas illuminations, decorate with lights and ornaments, exchange gifts, indulge in Christmas cakes, and consider it a romantic occasion. While not religiously observed, Japan has embraced the commercial and festive aspects of Christmas.

  • Admiring Japanese Winter Christmas Illuminations

While lights and decorations make a huge part of Christmas celebrations all across the planet wherever it is celebrated, Japan takes it a notch higher. 

Japan becomes a winter illumination destination wherein each winter, the cities in Japan become full of twinkling lights. The sight is extremely mesmerizing. In recent years, owing to the eco-friendly drive, many business owners have started using eco-friendly LED lights. 

illuminations during japanese christmas

These consume less electricity as compared to their traditional counterparts. 

It is not common to put up Christmas trees in one’s home in Japan. However, you will see beautiful displays of Christmas trees in many businesses and shopping centers. These trees are wonderfully decorated and lit up. 

christmas lights in japan

Thanks to all these efforts, a regular trip to the mall can easily change into an amazing winter wonderland experience. 

  • Favorite Japanese Christmas Meal is KFC 

Yes! Christmas in Japan is all about fried chicken. For restaurants like KFC, Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year in Japan. People start ordering fried chicken at their local fast food restaurant well in advance. 

Eating KFC on Christmas in Japan is one of the most sacred Christmas traditions in Japan and it really shows their holiday spirits. The demand for this delicacy is quite high. If you wait until Christmas Day to get your hands on some fried chicken, you may have to wait for at least six hours. 

japanese christmas kfc
  • Japan Christmas Cakes

Western countries enjoy gingerbread men, cookies, or pies as dessert on Christmas. Japanese, on the other hand, eat Christmas cake, which is known as kurisumasu keeki. 

The cake that is eaten here is not a regular fruit cake that is eaten in European and American countries. In Japan, this cake is a sponge cake that has strawberries and whipped cream. 

The cakes are also decorated with sugar Santas as well as other Christmas-themed edible ornaments. It was by the 1970s that the tradition of eating cake on Christmas really caught on among the households in Japan. 

  • Music Popular on Christmas in Japan

The western world sings Christmas carols on Christmas. However, in Japan, there is one piece of music that is extremely famous on this day and the end of the year. It is Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and its final act the “Ode to Joy”. 

The music is extremely popular and it is commonly known as “daiku”, which means “number nine”. The song is sung in German by choirs all across the country. It is believed that the music first came to Japan in World War One. 

It was introduced by the German prisoners, and over the years, the song became highly popular. 

Apart from this, Japan also has quite a good range of pop hits that are extremely popular during Christmas time. You will also find songs that are a mix of traditional and foreign pop songs.

Here are some popular Japanese Christmas songs that you can enjoy:

  • Tatsuro Yamashita – Christmas Eve
  • Junichi Inagaki – At the Time for Christmas Carol
  • Yumi Matsutouya – My Baby Santa Claus
  • Keisuke Kuwata – Snow White
  • B’z – Itsuka no Merry Christmas
  • Visiting Tokyo Disneyland on Christmas

Another popular thing that the Japanese love doing on Christmas is visiting Tokyo Disneyland. They love seeing the decorations and the parades that happen there. In Disneyland, the Christmas season begins on the second week of November and it continues till the day of Christmas. It is probably because of this Disney-themed Christmas that Christmas in Japan is not seen as a religious affair. It is more of a fun and romantic time for everyone. 

  • Japanese Christmas Markets
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Christmas markets are very popular all over Japan, and they are hosted right from the beginning to the end of winter. In these Christmas markets, you will be able to find everything from beautiful and mesmerizing Christmas ornaments to mulled wine. You really need to visit the Christmas markets if you are in Japan or are planning to visit the country during that time of the year. I guarantee that you will not be disappointed. 

  • Christmas Shopping in Japan

Apart from all the fun, lights, and decorations, what is really popular in Japan during Christmas is shopping. There are so many things to shop for during this time of the year. You can shop for everything from traditional trees to decorating ornaments. You will also see that there are a lot of sales and offers available in major shopping centers and departmental stores. Also, since the tradition of exchanging gifts in Japan is quite big, you will see a lot of wonderful ideas.  

5 facts about Christmas in Japan?

  • Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan

Unlike many Western countries, Christmas is not a public holiday in Japan. Schools and businesses remain open, and it is treated as a regular working day.

  • It is celebrated more as a secular and commercial holiday

Christmas in Japan is largely seen as a secular and commercial event rather than a religious one. The emphasis is on the festive atmosphere, decorations, gift-giving, and enjoying time with family and friends.

  • Christmas illuminations are popular

One of the highlights of the Christmas season in Japan is the spectacular light displays known as “illuminations.” Cities, shopping streets, and parks are adorned with elaborate and colorful lights, attracting crowds of visitors.

  • KFC is associated with Christmas

A unique tradition in Japan is eating Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) on Christmas Eve. This practice began as a marketing campaign in the 1970s and has become so popular that people often pre-order their KFC meals in advance to avoid long queues.

  • Christmas cakes are a common treat

Christmas cakes, typically sponge cakes covered in cream and decorated with strawberries or other fruits, are widely enjoyed in Japan. They are available in bakeries and confectioneries during the holiday season and are often purchased for sharing with family and friends.

Is Christmas commonly celebrated in Japan?

While Christmas is not a traditional holiday in Japan, it has become increasingly popular and is widely celebrated, particularly in urban areas.

Christmas in Japan has gained prominence as a cultural and commercial event, although its observance and significance may differ from Western countries.

Here are some points to consider regarding the celebration of Christmas in Japan:

  • Commercialization

Christmas has been embraced by businesses and retailers in Japan as a marketing opportunity. Stores and shopping districts are adorned with Christmas decorations, and retailers offer special promotions and sales during the holiday season.

  • Festive Atmosphere

Cities in Japan are often decorated with dazzling Christmas illuminations, creating a festive ambiance. These light displays attract large crowds, and people enjoy strolling through the illuminated streets.

  • Gift-Giving

The practice of exchanging gifts has become more common in Japan during Christmas. While it is not as widespread as in Western countries, many Japanese people exchange presents with family, friends, and coworkers during the holiday season.

  • Romantic Occasion

Christmas in Japan is often considered a romantic holiday, similar to Valentine’s Day. Couples may go on dates, exchange gifts, and enjoy special dinners together in a romantic setting.

  • Traditional Activities
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Some Japanese families may engage in activities such as decorating Christmas trees, preparing special meals, and enjoying Christmas cakes. However, these practices are more influenced by Western cultural elements rather than long-standing Japanese traditions.

What Do Japanese Eat During Christmas?

On Christmas Day in Japan, people often indulge in various types of food, and while there is no specific traditional Japanese dish associated with the holiday, there are some popular culinary choices. Here are a few examples of what Japanese people may eat on Christmas Day:

  • Christmas Cake

Christmas cakes are a popular treat in Japan. These cakes are typically sponge cakes covered in cream and decorated with strawberries or other fruits. Families often gather to enjoy Christmas cakes together.

  • KFC (Fried Chicken)

Eating fried chicken, particularly from Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), has become a unique tradition in Japan on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It started as a marketing campaign in the 1970s and has since gained immense popularity, with people often pre-ordering their KFC meals well in advance to avoid long queues.

  • Roast Beef

Some families may opt for a roast beef dinner as a special meal for Christmas. Roast beef, often accompanied by vegetables and served with sauce, is enjoyed as a festive dish during the holiday season.

  • Western-style Cuisine

Many families may choose to have a Western-style meal on Christmas Day, which could include dishes like roasted chicken, pasta, steak, or a variety of side dishes influenced by Western cuisine.

  • Hot Pot (Nabe)

In some households, a hot pot meal, known as “nabe,” might be prepared. Nabe is a communal cooking style where a pot filled with broth is placed in the center of the table, and various ingredients such as vegetables, meat, and seafood are added and cooked together.

Why do Japanese eat KFC on Christmas?

The tradition of eating KFC on Christmas in Japan began as a result of a successful marketing campaign by Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in the 1970s. The story behind it goes as follows:

In the 1970s, there were not many Christmas traditions in Japan, and the holiday was not widely celebrated.

At that time, a group of foreigners in Japan, primarily Western expatriates, were looking for a way to enjoy a traditional Christmas meal with turkey, which was hard to find in Japan.

Seizing this opportunity, KFC launched an advertising campaign in 1974 with the slogan “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” which translates to “Kentucky for Christmas!”

The marketing campaign portrayed a Christmas meal centered around fried chicken, and it quickly gained popularity among the Japanese population.

The idea of enjoying a “Western-style” meal, particularly fried chicken, resonated with the Japanese people. Over time, the association between KFC and Christmas grew stronger, and it became a popular tradition to order KFC meals for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

The tradition has been sustained through consistent marketing efforts by KFC and has become deeply ingrained in Japanese Christmas culture.

Today, it is not uncommon for people to place orders in advance and for KFC outlets to offer special Christmas-themed meal packages during the holiday season.

The tradition of eating KFC on Christmas in Japan is a unique example of how cultural marketing and innovative campaigns can shape and influence holiday traditions.

Winter Wonderland in Japan!

Christmas in Japan truly feels like you have entered Winter Wonderland. The entire nation is glittering in marvelous illuminations with beautifully decorated Christmas trees welcoming you to shopping centers. You get to enjoy a Disney-themed Christmas at the lovely Disneyland. There are exchanges of gifts and couples spend a romantic time together. All in all, Christmas is one of the best ways times to be in Japan.

Also Read:

  1. Guide to Japanese Halloween: Obon Festival

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