What is Christmas Like in Japan?
What to Expect if You’re Spending Christmas in Japan
Japan might not be a predominantly Christian country, but it has adopted a number of festive traditions from the West over the years, putting its own cultural stamp on many of them. Spending Christmas in Japan is an exciting and totally unique experience – and one that everyone should try at least once in their lives.
If you would like to get a flavour of what Christmas is like in Japan, read on to discover some of the key customs that have entered the Japanese end-of-year calendar over the past few decades.
Celebrating Christmas in Japan
With the Christian population of Japan thought to be fewer than one percent, Christmas is more of a commercial celebration than a religious one. Corporations line the city streets with lights, trees and decorations, and relentlessly plug their festive deals on TV – much like they do here in the UK, in fact.
Which brings me to my next point. If you are planning to spend Christmas in Japan, don’t expect to be served turkey with all the trimmings. Thanks to a successful advertising campaign back in the ‘70s, KFC is the main port of call for a ‘traditional’ Christmas dinner in Japan. Well, at least it saves having to cook…
Unfortunately, I have been unable to find the original commercial. But AbroadinJapan has made a wonderful video about this, which can be seen below or via YouTube.
One thing that you can be certain of getting is plenty of cake – although not the glutinous, booze-soaked slabs of fruitcake that you get here in the UK. Japanese Christmas cake usually consists of a light sponge topped with cream and strawberries, and since European Christmas markets have started popping up across Japan, stollen has also become a popular choice.
Parties are held around Christmas day, with gifts exchanged amongst friends and family. These are often objects of interest from abroad, transformed into something that is uniquely Japanese. Many also have a Christmassy theme to them, like the Santa-san (Santa Claus) and yukidaruma (snowman) kokeshi pictured here.
But giving gifts during the festive season is nothing new to the Japanese. Oseibo, the traditional custom of end-of-year gift giving, was almost a public obligation until a few decades ago, when it was overtaken by the less formal exchange of Christmas presents that you see today.
Having originated from the custom of placing offerings on ancestors’ graves, oseibo involves the exchange of consumables such as cured meats, sake and soap as tokens of gratitude. Many of these gifts are given to business associates such as clients and superiors at work, as well as other important figures like landlords and doctors.
More recently, this practice has come to be seen by many corporations as a way to buy favours, and oseibo gifts have subsequently been limited to small items such as calendars and stationery. However, consumables remain a popular Christmas gift in Japan, and you often see items like beer, luxury cooking condiments and desserts sitting alongside other festive gifts in the shops.
I hope you have enjoyed learning about Christmas in Japan. If you would like to bring a little bit of Japanese-style festive cheer to your Christmas this year (but don’t fancy switching the roast dinner for a KFC), we have a fantastic selection of Japanese Christmas gifts to choose from. From £7 stocking fillers to stunning kimono, artwork, tableware and more, you’re bound to find presents that your family and friends will love.
Browse our website to view the full range, or share your Japanese Christmas experiences with us via Facebook or Twitter. Alternatively, read this informative article for more information on the tradition of oseibo.