Christmas in Japan

Christmas Light Show in Sapporo 2013

Christmas Light Show in Sapporo, Hokkaido 2013

Oh yes – ‘Tis the season to be jolly!

In Trinidad, most businesses and companies close at midday on Christmas Eve to facilitate final Christmas preparations and gift purchasing. Then, we have both Christmas Day (25th December) and Boxing Day (26th December) as holidays. So, this year, we have a very long weekend starting from midday Wednesday this week!

For us, Christmas is a very big event which has the whole country starting its Christmas countdown soon after Divali Celebrations – which is normally in November. Every day, Christmas songs of yesteryear, today and local favourites could be heard on the radio and blaring in the malls. Parang groups return once again for their seasonal serenades; while the familiar smells of pastelles, roast turkey or ham, fruit and black cakes waft through the air.

The bustling is also enjoyable. Malls’ car parks are slowing bursting with cars that are forced to even park on its perimeter! Once inside, your eyes are overwhelmed by the moving sea of people with the mission of getting the perfect presents for their friends, families and loved ones. Pop-up flea markets appear all across the country offering a variety of goods at prices that rival big companies.

Most homes, businesses and even public areas are adorned with colourful lights, Christmas ornaments and decor. Freshly painted homes with new curtains, furniture and big televisions are a familiar sight. Even businesses get even more in the festive spirit by hosting Christmas parties, breakfast or lunch functions. Employees even participate in games like ‘Secret Santa‘, a gift exchange where a name is randomly drawn and you have to buy that person a nice present within a price range.

Of course, donations and presents to orphanages and families who cannot afford is also part of the experience of Christmas in Trinidad. Churches are also busy in their preparations of ceremonies to be conducted between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Christmas Tree on display at the Narita Airport in Chiba, Japan

Christmas Tree on display at the Narita Airport in Chiba, Japan. See, I managed to sneak my little Coca Cola there in the picture!

You are probably wondering. ‘Why start with Christmas at home? When are you going to get to the topic – Christmas in Japan?

There are two reasons why I started with Christmas in my country of Trinidad:


  1. To highlight some of the traditions and customs from my country that may be the same with you, the reader, in his / her country.

2. To highlight that there may be some traditions and customs that may be different between our countries.


And if there are differences and similarities between our countries, the same could be said between Japan and your own country.

Additionally, I could only list the similarities and differences of Japan’s Christmas in relation to my own experience of Christmas in Trinidad. So, by giving one the idea of what Christmas is like in my country, one is able to better appreciate my perspective of Christmas in Japan.

So let’s get started on our Christmas experience in Japan!!!


Your eyes are not deceiving you – that is the Colonel all dressed up as Santa Claus!

In Japan, a barrel of chicken from KFC is as closely tied to Christmas, as your laces are tied to your shoes! The demand for it is so great that you have to preorder your barrel about 2 – 3 months in advance for Christmas!

So, where and when did this happen?

The story goes that a clever expat in the 1970’s commented that there was no roast turkey to celebrate the season and that the closest thing to it is KFC! An employee heard the comment and after a successful advertising campaign was launched, the rest was history!

Even if you do manage to miss placing that order, you could still go to an outlet and purchase your barrel – BUT BE WARNED! The lines are incredibly long and there is a very long wait!


CHRISTMAS DAY IS NOT A HOLIDAY.

Yes. You read that correctly.

In Japan, unless you applied for the day off, you would be off to work bright and early on Christmas morning.

So, to all expats living in Japan, it is essential to apply for those vacation days early well in advance if you want to enjoy your Christmas at home with friends and family – even if it is via Skype (like me).


Christmas Eve is considered to be a special and romantic time for couples.

Couples usually meet at a public location, go to a very nice restaurant, take a lovely stroll to see all of the lights that are on display and hopefully exchange meaningful gifts with each other.

It very much resembles the Valentine’s Day that we are accustomed to in the West.

Although it is very much a couple’s ‘holiday‘, people still purchase small gifts for their friends and / or loved ones if they want to show them a small token of appreciation.


Christmas is celebrated more on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day!

Remember that KFC barrel that you ordered months in advance?

Expect to most likely enjoy it with your loved ones on Christmas Eve!

Oh, and those presents?

Most Japanese families share their gifts on Christmas Eve as well!


They may not have Fruit Cake  . . . they may not have Black Cake . . . but by golly they have

C H R I S T M A S    C A K E!

This is a light sponge cake that is packed with fresh strawberries and fresh whipped cream.

Families preorder their Christmas Cakes in advance and enjoy it in all of its yummy goodness  . . . .on Christmas Eve!


Courtesy of: http://endtimeobserver.blogspot.com

Courtesy of: endtimeobserver.blogspot.com

Although most people in Japan are either Shinto or Buddhist, less than one percent of the population is Christian!

There are churches throughout Japan that hold all of the religious ceremonies that are associated with Christmas on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

From my observations, Hokkaido seems to possess the most number of churches per prefecture than any other throughout Japan.


The Christmas Village in Sapporo features a number of novelty stalls - especially from Russia!

The Christmas Village in Sapporo features a number of novelty stalls – especially from Russia!

As stated before, less than one percent of the population in Japan is Christian.

To a number of Japanese people, Christmas is a time of novelty and romance – which spells  COMMERCIAL SUCCESS to businesses.

Big shopping centres invest in a lot of Christmas decorations and provide a lot of sales during this season – even on Christmas Day itself!

Although it is clearly a big commercial event during this time; the products and services that they provide are so novel, unique and manages to find and touch on some sort of nostalgia that resides within your heart – that it becomes incredibly endearing!

And then you HAVE to purchase that item to hold unto that feeling!!!!

There are old cartoons, characters, etc. that you grew up with but are no longer popular in the West, yet they are still well and alive in Japan! For example, my friends ‘Peter Rabbit‘ and ‘The Snowman‘ were available in such a variety of products, that I had to restrain myself from buying the lot!

And the sales – they are really good. You really do get items of excellent quality at very good prices.

Such effective marketing!


Just around Christmas, people in Japan attend at least one bōnenkai (忘年会). Its literal translation being ‘Forget the year gathering‘.

It is a Japanese drinking party (with lots of food) held at the end of year with groups of co-workers or friends at an izakaya, pub, or restaurant. It is a way to informally socialize, close the year on a high note and look forward to the new year.

At the bōnenkais that I have attended, staff organized games that were Christmas themed. They even organized a little gift exchange before the party ended.

Unless otherwise stated, each person has to confirm their attendance in advance and make a contribution towards the bōnenkai – not surpassing around 5,000 yen. This covers the cost of food, prizes and drinks for the entire night.


I hope that this gave you another glimpse into daily life in Japan, and made you feel that you were experiencing the season along with many other Japanese people!

So, from JapanLime to you . . . .

M E R R Y   C H R I S T M A S!

Hiragana: めりーくりすます!

Katakana: メリークリスマス!

Romaji:  Meri Kurisumasu!


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