I think Japan was like ‘Nice Holiday you have there, Europe. Think we’ll adopt our favorite parts and call them our own’. Or that’s how I imagined it.
Here is my list of 8 things I enjoy about Christmas in Japan:
1.) Christmas Cake
When I first arrived, the Japanese asked about my family’s “Christmas Cake” and I stared at them blankly. They insisted it was a Western Tradition. I begged to differ.
However, most are still very convinced people in the West eat Christmas Cake during Christmas. I’m still waiting for egg nog to invade Japan.
I love any tradition that gives an excuse to buy cake. After all, since I live in Japan I should blend with the natives, right? Right! Let’s buy some cake!
You have to choose yours in advance because they get sold out fast. Every year we go to the mall and look through catalogs and pamphlets, ending up in lengthly arguments where I argue for “chocolate cakes” and my husband argues in favor of “cheese cakes”. We usually compromise on strawberry cake.
The Japanese Christmas Cake is usually ornamented with whipped cream, strawberries, and christmas figurines. Actually there used to be a joke that compared 25 year old women to Christmas Cakes, saying that “after the age of 25, an unmarried had past its expiration date”.
Luckily, that joke has faded out of favor.
2.) Japanese Turkey (aka KFC chicken)
KFC has somehow embedded itself into the minds of Japanese as the Go-To-Christmas tradition of foods. On Christmas Day the lines for KFC wrap around the buildings. For the Christmas specials you have to order in advance. In Japan, KFC chicken is what you eat on Christmas. (Not kidding).
KFC has all sorts of special Christmas sets for this holiday.
3.) Lovers’ Day
Christmas is seen as the day for romantic dates with your significant other.
During this day all the love hotels are booked and the romantic hotspots are occupied. A lot of Japanese comics and anime stories will reference Christmas a big deal for lovers, even bigger than Valentine’s Day.
While technically not a personal ‘favorite’, I do enjoy watching the Christmas Day arc in most Japanese love stories. It’s usually guaranteed to have lots of yummy drama.
4.) Japanese Christmas Bonsai Trees
Christmas Trees are growing in popularity in Japan, but they aren’t growing in size. They remain tiny, none more so than Christmas Bonsai Trees. I’ve never owned one, but I would love to have one. Too bad Bonsai Trees need delicate care and I’m not good with plants like my father is.
5.) Japanese Christmas Lights
They have embraced lighting stuff up with gusto. Every year the displays get bigger and brighter. Theme Parks now have special “night” versions for guests who just want to see their Christmas Light Displays.
Maranouchi, Ginza, Tokyo Sky Tree, and more now light up for Christmas. Actually, not just Christmas but until February. Nevertheless, these are considered Christmas decorations.
It’s not just the big displays, but personal homes are joining in and lighting up. I see Christmas lights appearing little by little in neighborhoods.
Funny thing is that these aren’t really Japan-invented or they are and Japanese believe their western traditions. Or they’re fast becoming Japanese Christmas traditions
6.) Christmas Festivals
They exist. My favorite is the one in Yokohama Red Brick Building. It’s not really a true Christmas festival, but it’s decorated with Nativity Scenes, Santa, Elves, and a plethora of Christmas stuff. There are vendors that sell hot wine and cider.
You can buy German Sausage and visit Santa on certain days. There is a lover’s bell set up in front of the large Christmas Tree. You and your lover can ring the bell and wish for lover everlasting if you like.
Afterwards, you can go skating at the ice rink if you want.
Anyhow, those are things I enjoy about Christmas in Japan. I can’t wait for my KFC and Cake this christmas as we exchange presents.
A couple years ago my husband surprised me on Christmas. We were staying at pension on the 25th when they brought out a special surprise Christmas cake for us. It was so sweet (the cake literally and the act metaphorically) of him.
He doesn’t do big gestures, we aren’t a big gestures kind of couple, yet somehow his small gestures have a bigger impact to me. While he doesn’t say it, I can tell he thinks a lot of making me happy.
He’s the most selfless person I know. So any Christmas with him will be a good one.
(Oh, one more thing for that list: Starbuck Gingerbread Lattes. I love those.)