‘Tis the season to be jolly! Unless you don’t really celebrate it… But hey, Winter sales are still around! Anyway, have you ever wondered how Christmas is celebrated in Japan? Is it just like in the anime we watch? Or perhaps there is a whole different idea surrounding Christmas itself? Celebrated on December 25th, allow us to dive into a jolly and festive day! I have to admit, I’m even eating cookies as I write this.
Before we discuss the traditions itself, let’s talk about the holiday season itself. You’d be surprised at this, but Christmas in Japan doesn’t necessarily share the same concept of giving gifts and spending time with their family/friends with the majority of the world. In fact, it’s celebrated in an opposite way as it is in western countries. Here’s the big plot twist, Christmas Eve is actually the most romantic day of the year in Japan! It’s a time where if you’re single, you should probably hide away in a room instead and not walk out to see the masses of couples feeding each other snacks. Stores even sell romantic Christmas gifts, and I just can’t imagine how difficult it would be to even try and book a meal during it!
The “Special” Christmas Meal
To be honest, this is even more surprising than Christmas Eve actually being romantic. But, you would probably think that just like the rest of the world, the main meal for such an event would be the classic roast turkey. In actuality, the main Christmas meal in Japan is fried chicken. You heard me right, fried chicken. Each Christmas, families sit around the table to eat some good ol’ KFC chicken, and I’m not joking – an estimated 3.6 million gather just for this, KFC must really be making a fortune in Japan, huh?
Allow me to provide you with some context behind this. The main reason this happens is due to Takeshi Okawara, the first KFC manager in the country suddenly having the idea of a “party bucket” that would be sold on Christmas, inspired from his dream and the talk of foreigners missing their usual food they had received back in their own countries. In fact, many families usually order their Christmas meal from KFC up to six weeks in advance! Now my stomach is growling…
The Christmas Cake
This is the most popular delicacy during the holiday season referred to as “kurisumasu keki” (I chuckled a little at the pronunciation) – which has been viewed as the symbol of prosperity from Japan rising from the ruins after the events of World War II. It’s sold on practically every street, and is traditionally a sponge cake, with whipped cream, strawberries and maybe a cute little small Santa figure.
The funny thing behind this? It wasn’t even meant to be for Christmas, but for birthdays instead.
Although having tighter restrictions thanks to certain circumstances (cough, cough, my good pal Covid), Tokyo Disneyland is a hugely popular holiday destination for Christmas. During this time of year, they transform to match with the excitement built up for the season, and honestly just has to be the most beautiful thing to see. So, anyone willing to buy a ticket for me?
The History Of Santa
The Japanese equivalent of Santa Claus is referred to as “Hoteiosho”, a Buddhist monk who bears gifts for children.
The earliest Christmas celebration in Japan was way back in 1552, however it was actually until 1875 where our favourite jolly ol’ man in red had made an appearance. In Tokyo, at the Harajo School from Ginza, a Santa Claus dressed as a samurai had randomly appeared during a Christmas celebration – which led to a book being published in 1898, with the name “Santakuro”. With that out of the way, I expect all of you to be a Hoeiosho and provide me with as many gifts as you can.
The Christmas Tree
Ah, one of the best bits of Christmas. In Japan, the tradition of putting up a decorated tree had been brought to the country by Christian missionaries. Surprisingly though, it wasn’t until 1910 until the first modern Christmas tree appeared in Ginza – making it fairly new, and ultimately meant that overly tall people were no longer being used as trees (joking, joking).
In Japan, Christmas trees are normally decorated with traditional ornaments such as small fans, paper lanterns, origami birds and animals. However, the Japanese eventually began using more westernised Christmas decorations and essentially became one of the main manufacturers of Christmas decorations.
Christmas truly does hold a special place in many childhoods and even adulthoods. To me, it’s one of the most beautiful times of years and the least costly (ahem, not that I’ve spent quite a bit of money on a Santa onesie) – do you have any plans during this festive season? If you don’t, you’re free to spend it on me.