Japanese Christmas – Fun Facts about the Holiday
Merry Christmas…in Japan? You know they say in Japan, “Happy Christmas!” Like other things that Japan absorbs into their culture, Christmas also has its own unique twist in the country. The things that might be familiar to New Yorkers are the various Christmas lights and decorations, Santa in malls, millions of shoppers, and specials at Starbucks. But there are also many unique things about Christmas in Japan.
First of all, before talking about the unique fun things about a Japanese Christmas, I’d like to touch briefly on religion in Japan. Most New Yorkers when I mention Christmas in Japan ask the question, “Are they Christian?” To answer simply, there are some Japanese who identify themselves as Christians, but actually most Japanese don’t identify themselves as a “religion” at all. It’s actually more commonplace to view their Buddhist and Shinto heritage as a way of life and custom than what we’d call in America “religion.” This mindset probably adds to the ability of Japan to take on Christmas and make a holiday all its own.
One of the most interesting things about Christmas and the New Year in Japan is the tradition of celebrating both holidays. Christmas is actually a time to get together with friends and have parties, while the New Year is a time to get together with family, and visit the local place of worship. In America as you might know it’s actually the opposite, families are generally together on Christmas where as New Year’s is the time to have parties and meetup with friends.
As you might be able to guess a second part of Christmas that’s different in Japan is the food. I was speaking to a Japanese friend the other night who described his first Christmas in New York City as one of confusion. He went to all the local grocery stores and malls near him, but could not find the typical food you eat on Christmas. Nope, not Turkey. Christmas Cake! Japan has their own unique Christmas Cakes that are sold everywhere, and are actually quite light and delicious.
The third and last interesting comparison about Japanese Christmas is the ever lasting symbol of Christmas, the Christmas Tree. The Japanese do have Christmas trees, they’re actually quite ubiquitous throughout malls, stations, and other public places (some are in homes, but probably much fewer than America). Can you guess which type of trees though they are? If you know Japan and its lack of resources, you might guess that 90% of trees are fake trees in Japan, simply due to the cost of having a “Christmas Tree Farm” in a densely populated and majority urban country.
Hope you enjoyed reading about Japanese Christmas, please add your comments about experiences or questions you might have about the traditions. Happy and Merry Christmas!