Yoshiko Bowyer

27 November 2016

7 Things You Need To Know About Christmas in Japan


IS THERE CHRISTMAS IN JAPAN?

People who have experienced Christmas in Japan would know that there isn’t a simple yes or no. Yes, Christmas is celebrated in Japan, but not how you would expect it to be.

In this post, I am introducing you to 7 things that will be very useful to know about Christmas in Japan to avoid any potential awkwardness and to know how the locals enjoy this time in their own way.

#1. IT IS NOT A HOLIDAY

Although the 23rd of December is a national holiday, it has nothing to do with Christmas, in fact, it is the present emperor’s birthday. The 24th and 25th of December, however, are not public holidays and therefore, people work as usual on these days (sometimes for longer hours even). For many people, it is the busiest time of the year (the end of the year with a lot of looming deadlines).

Traditionally, the month of December is considered to be the busiest month of the year. “Shiwasu (師走/しわす)” is the name of December in the old Japanese calendar system, which literally means “priests run”, and implies that even monks who belong to a higher social rank than regular physical workers also have to run around, as they are very busy at year end.

#2. CHRISTMAS DOES NOT HAVE ANY RELIGIOUS MEANING.

 The major religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shinto. The Christian population is only 1.5 %. Nevertheless, the Japanese culture does have Christian presence. For instance, there are 776 universities and colleges in Japan, of which 76 are Christian colleges. However, the majority of students who enroll are not necessarily Christians. Also, people like wearing cross shaped accessories irrespective of religion because they are cool! Many couples choose to hold wedding ceremonies in Christian churches mainly because the brides want to wear fancy wedding dresses. In summary, Christmas is more of a commercial event than a religious holiday in Japan.

#3. IT IS NOT A FAMILY OCCASION.

Christmas in Japan is a special time for couples, just like Valentine’s day. In fact, Christmas Eve is a more important time for couples than Christmas day. Couples usually have a romantic date on Christmas Eve. Many restaurants and hotels are booked out for this reason.

Christmas in Japanenjoytokyo.jp

If you have a partner, you are expected to spend time with them, have a special romantic dinner, and exchange special presents. Even if you do not have a special person to spend time with, you probably want to spend time with friends- especially on Christmas Eve.

Kuribottchi (くりぼっち)” is a relatively new word being used among young people. The word is derived from two words “kurisumasu (クリスマス/ Christmas)” and “hitoribottchi (ひとりぼっち/ left alone)”, which reflects the obsessional idea that people need to spend time with someone, which then magnifies the feeling of loneliness of being single.

#4. CHRISTMAS SONGS.

Koi-bito ga Santa Kuroosu (恋人がサンタクロース)” is one of the most popular Japanese Christmas songs loved by the young and the old alike. As Christmas approaches, you will hear this song on the street, in the shops and restaurants, on the radio and TV, practically everywhere!

The title of the song means “my boyfriend/girlfriend is Santa Claus”. Because Christmas is supposed to be a romantic time for couples, as mentioned above, Christmas songs with romantic words are typical. This piece is no exception. The song was originally performed by Yumi Matsutoya, nicknamed “Yuumin”, an important figure in Japanese popular music and is well known for her distinctive voice and energetic live performances. The video below shows the song performed by Scandal, an all-girl Japanese rock band, complete with Japanese lyrics for you to learn Japanese by singing along. (See our post about learning Japanese through songs)

Scandal Japanese Bandjpopasia.com

When I started talking about Christmas songs in Japan, I could not help thinking about  “Kurisumasu Kyaroru No Koro Niwa (クリスマスキャロルの頃には)” by Junichi Inagaki as well. If you ask your Japanese friends to list their favorite Japanese Christmas songs, I guarantee you that this one will also be on their list.

#5. CHRISTMAS FOOD

As Christmas is not really a Japanese custom, unlike New Years, there is no set rule that each household follows. However, if you ask the locals in Japan what the typical Christmas food is, the majority would most likely reply that it is Kentucky fried chicken. KFC provides several different Christmas special menus. You will need to order in advance to get them on time.

Japanese Christmas KFCkfc.co.jp

As for the dessert, there is no set rule either, but the majority of people would like to have sponge cakes covered with whipped cream. Sponge cakes decorated with fruits such as strawberries are the most popular. When Christmas approaches, you will see the advertisements for these cakes to remind you to order one. Again, you need to order in advance.

Japanese Christmas Cakelawson.co.jp

#6. CHRISTMAS GREETINGS

 Christmas Greetings…There is no such thing in Japan. In fact, people say and write “Merii Kurisumasu (メリークリスマス/Merry Christmas)” often without knowing the meaning of it. Some young people tend to exchange texts with friends such as “Meri-Kuri (メリクリ)”, which is the shortened form of “Merii Kurisumasu (メリークリスマス/Merry Christmas)”. The locals also like to write “Merry X’mas” as the spelling ‘Christmas” is a little tricky for them.

For a more authentic way of greeting around this time of the year, you will hear that the locals say “Yoi Otoshi o! (良いお年を!)”. It means “I wish you good luck for the coming year!”

#7. CHRISTMAS CARDS

Various kinds of Christmas cards are available online or at shops in Japan. Designs of Santa Claus, Snowman, and Christmas trees are the most popular. Cards with Japanese scenery is popular, too! Just like the image below, which shows Santa Clauses and the bullet train (shinkansen). I would say people like to choose similar cards to these when they send greetings to friends who live overseas.

Japanese Christmas Cardflickriver.com

More importantly, people would only send Christmas cards to a special person or a boyfriend/girlfriend (as previously mentioned, it is equivalent to Valentine’s Day). Or people might send one to friends and family members who live overseas as season’s greetings.

I wish you all a very メリークリスマス and 良いお年を!


See also 7 Things You Need To Know About New Year In Japan.

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