Like Halloween, Christmas in Japan has its own thoroughly unique twists that make it so... um... Japanese. To try to wrap your head around it, just take all the images of what a traditional Western Christmas consists of and shred it.
In general, Christmas takes a back seat to New Years. And when we say back seat we mean pretty much in the trunk or the "boot" as the Brits say.
Many sites simply say Christmas in Japan is just KFC but we sent staff writer Drunken Billy - not his real name - out to get the scoop. Although it in no way compares to an American Christmas, it has a much needed upside of not being mired in the borderline crazy shopping behavior characteristic of Christmas in many Western countries.
Although winter in Japan can be drab and cold, come as early as November cities around Japan do a fine job of creating a cheery and festive feeling with some quite spectacular light displays that are bound to bring a smile to the face of holiday shoppers and bypassers alike.
The extravagant illumination displays are one of the classic earmarks of Christmas in Japan and has rapidly become a "must do and see" for young couples and often is the kick-off of their romantic night on the town.
Although Tokyo has the most illumination displays. There are quite a few others that are quite nice. So here are some of the finest Christmas lights in Japan along with a splash of some honorable mentions.
In terms of religious overtones Christmas in Japan is like a desert. Believe it or not it is more a lover's holiday and a light show more than anything else at least for the younger Japanese that usually are not married or are working on getting there.
In fact Valentines Day pales in comparison to Christmas eve. Family is left pretty much out of the picture as well. Usually young couples will dress up very nicely and go out for candle lit dinners and take in some fairly delightful Christmas illumination displays etc.
To think that Christmas eve is such a rage for young in love couples blows the mind but it is just one of those quirky things about Japan. In fact, making dinner reservations is highly recommended as many restaurants will be packed up pretty good.
Japanese Christmas Cake
When it comes to celebrating Christmas in Japan, whether you're with your lover, family and kids or sitting in front of the tube by yourself, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without the ultra traditional Japanese Christmas cake.
Japanese absolutely go bonkers over it. They are wonderfully delicious and light and easy to eat topped with piles of fresh delicious strawberries and other fruits. They are not heavy like traditional Western cakes but are spongy and light similar to an angel food cake.
Although Japanese Christmas cakes are a bit pricey. When the big day 12/25 finally arrives, the price falls right through the floor. So if you want to save some money on the super-popular, must have, neat-to-eat-treat, wait until the 25th.
One little interesting factoid about Japanese Christmas cakes is that it has a sexist symbolic meaning regarding women. Not so much nowadays but in the past a woman was referred to as a "Christmas cake girl" meaning that she hit her expiration date for marriage thus being relegated to the status of an "Old Maid".
When you start pushing the envelope towards the high-end cakes for that special someone, you can tear a hole in a 10,000 yen bill in the blink of a young girl's eye. 5,000 yen to 7,000 yen is standard for nice cakes.
These come complete with Santa clause figurines perched on top to keep an eye on who is naughty or nice. And finally there are Christmas cakes that truly do take the cake.
Simply mind boggling. The creme de la creme of cakes. A cake that would make you lie awake in bed wishing to all heck you hadn't ate it. Better rush cuz they be going fast. The Hotel New Otani Tokyo rolls out this orgasmic cake weighing in at a over nearly two feet tall and one foot wide. It costs a mere 60,000 yen - roughly $600.
Japanese Christmas cake connoisseurs might consider buying their cake at a convenience store instead of Hotel New Otani and donate the balance of that 60,000 yen to our site with a lovely Christmas card with something like "Hey dudes! Don't blow it all on beer! Merry Christmas."
Many parents will get a tree for their children and the family will decorate it. As most Japanese houses or apartments are small, so are the trees. Many but not all put presents from Santa under the trees just as in Western countries. Some families will leave out some cookies for Santa and even sometimes carrots for his reindeer!
As in the rest of the world Japanese children generally believe in Santa Clause until around 6 years of age or so. And many children play the game of pretending to believe in Santa Clause until they are around eight years old so that they can clean up on presents and other such goodies. However the presents that are given to the kids are not nearly as extravagant as in Western countries and are much fewer in number.
An interesting thing is that once the charade of Santa Clause being known as a myth is known by both parent and child, the present giving grinds to a halt and Christmas is pretty much relegated to sharing that super special, once a year, yearned for Christmas cake with the family.
Here is another oddity that definitely sets Christmas in Japan apart from the rest of the world and Colonel Sanders must just love Japan for it. Fried Chicken. Yup. You read that right. It pretty much is their go to food for Christmas.
Special KFC chicken sets fly off the shelves as fast as the stockers can stack them on. How this all got started is a bit of a mystery although in the video below Arisa, the video host makes a reference to the somewhat mysterious rise of Christmas as a holiday in a country that is predominantly Buddhist and Shinto. Many foreigners believe there are many Christians in Japan because of how ramped-up Christmas gets. Nothing could be further from the truth as Christians comprise a mere one percent of the population
A Christmas Video That Sheds Some Light on How Japanese Feel About Christmas and What it Means to Them.
This nice little video adequately sums up what Christmas in Japan is like from both the foreigner's as well as the Japanese perspective. Short, 2:54 seconds. So all you ESL teachers who will be coming to Japan to teach English, should you stay in Japan over the holiday season, this is pretty much what you can expect.
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