Christmas has become increasingly popular in Japan over the last few decades but it’s not a national holiday, which means many businesses and schools remain open on 25th December. When you think about it, it’s quite obvious really – Christmas is a Christian holiday and less than 1% of the Japanese population are Christian.
However, thousands of Japanese people still celebrate the festive season, although Christmas Eve is more popular than the big day itself. In some ways, the 24th December has turned into another Valentine’s Day as it is particularly associated with couples. Traditionally, lovers will go on long, romantic walks taking in the Christmas lights before enjoying a meal in a restaurant and giving each other presents.
KFC and other traditions
Lots of Japanese families eat KFC on Christmas Day, thanks to a clever marketing campaign several decades ago.
It’s become so popular that people place their orders for the special Festive buckets months in advance. And Colonel Saunders wears the obligatory Santa suit at every KFC restaurant.
Christmas Cake is also a favourite seasonal food, but it’s very different to our heavy fruit variety.
It is a light sponge cake filled with whipped cream and strawberries, which is often decorated with miniature trees and little Father Christmases (or Santa San as he’s known over there). If you happen to be in Japan at Christmas time, you may well hear rather a lot of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as this tune has become popularised as the soundtrack for the season.
Despite the fact it’s not an official holiday, Japan has embraced the tradition of Christmas decorations and shopping.
Christmas trees were introduced into the country in the early 1900s and, at first, were decorated with Japanese motifs including fans and origami figures. Nowadays, they look just like Western trees complete with lights, tinsel and baubles.
Some of the wackiest Christmas trees have come out of Japan. Several years ago one of the sea life centres made a tree out of 50,000 sardines. The following year, the same centre powered the lights on the tree courtesy of an electric eel. A jewellery store created a solid gold Christmas tree in 2011, said to be worth over £2 million.
Wherever you are for Christmas this year, we’d like to wish you a Merri Kurisumasu メリークリスマス