Monday, 13 December 2010

Christmas Around the World no. 3: Japan

Alana contacted me after seeing Bianca's post on Friday, and kindly offered to write about how Christmas is celebrated in Japan. Thanks so much Alana!

Christmas Pokemon and stuffed toys

Christmas is not a traditional or religious holiday in Japan. Although, with the enthusiasm for the holiday and the ubiquity of “Christmas goods” it’s hard to tell until it gets to the actual day. Some houses and business put up lights which are referred to as “illumination”. Stores are well decorated and play English and Japanese Christmas music. Almost every store has Christmas goods for sale.

Christmas Cakes

Christmas Eve is celebrated by eating a “Christmas Cake” which usually must be ordered ahead of time from a bakery, convenience store, or grocery store. The cake is typically a white or sponge cake with white frosting and decorated with strawberries. Strawberries are especially expensive this time of year for this reason. You can also find many strawberry flavored versions of your favorite candies this time of year. They associate strawberries with Christmas. The cake is topped with Christmas decorations: snowmen, Santa-san, and holly. Small candles are lit on the cake and blown out by the family’s children. It almost make you want to sing Happy Birthday, dear Jesus (or “Kurisuto”), but I’m not sure anyone is aware of the religious reason for celebrating Christmas. Special cakes for children are also available with their favorite characters on top of the cake. Pokemon and Power Rangers (“Go Rangers”) are the ones most people would know.

Along with the cake, children drink a fizzy apple cider which isn’t very sweet and has a mild flavor. It comes in a small bottle that pops like champagne. This too can be bought with your favorite characters on the package. It is extremely cheap, usually less than 200 yen for a small bottle.

Mister Donut Rilakkuma Christmas Promotion

Families may enjoy eat a snack of sushi, pizza or KFC. That’s right Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC has done a great job of convincing Japanese people that fried chicken is the appropriate food to eat at Christmas (getting a turkey in the country is difficult and costly) You get a commemorative Christmas plate when you buy a bucket of KFC on Dec. 23, 24 or 25.

Hello Kitty Christmas Boot

Children go to sleep, excited for Santa-san’s arrival. Children wake up to find a present (that’s right, ONE present) and unwrap it without any ceremony or circumstance. This marks the end of the Christmas celebration. Anti-climactic isn’t it?

Children are sometimes given a Christmas boot, which is like a stocking, but it is clearly boot-shaped. These come pre-packaged filled with candy and sometimes cheap toys. Again, it is all about the characters. You can choose from a wide variety: Hello Kitty, Shinkansen, Jewel Pets, Pokemon, One Piece, Dragon Ball and many others. Instead of a boot you can also buy a reusable tin, bag or plastic box filled with candy.

Christmas Manga

So despite the Christmas trees, cards, costumes, stickers, Santa appearances and other holiday cheer, the actual celebration of it is very insignificant. The traditional holiday for Japanese families is New Year’s which has many special traditions. Christmas, on the other hand, is really just something to encourage buying.



  1. I've just read this to Ting and she reminded me of a picture of her as a little girl in Hong Kong... HOLDING A CHRISTMAS BOOT!

    It was enormous!

  2. ONE PRESENT!! Wouldn't have liked as a kid!


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