Mostly, the Christmas Celebrations in Japan are the usual Christian traditions without its religious matrix as practised in a country where only one per cent of its population are Christians. Nevertheless, the Japanese as a whole celebrate Xmas with curious vigor that can rival those of believers. In Japan, you will find all the universal symbols representing Xmas filling not only the homes but even the communities. The Japanese industry provided the Christian nations with supplies of Holiday decorations, toys and trinkets. The Japanese community later absorbed these practices.
How does Japan Celebrate Christmas?
Added for 2019, I recorded a short podcast-style audio story and interviewed a couple of Japan experts to bring you a first-hand account of what Christmas is like in Japan. This was featured on Christmas Past Podcast, which you can listen to right here! This episode covers Christmas Decorations in Japan, Christmas Parties and of course, Christmas Food in Japan.
Click here to Listen to the Christmas Traditions of Japan Podcast!
Listen to learn more About:
How Japan Decorates for Christmas
Why they Eat KFC at Christmas (!)
What is ‘Japanese Christmas Cake’?
This podcast is a part of the Christmas Around the World series, from Christmas Past Podcast – they’ve got lots more interesting history about Christmas on their site.
The decorations of the Christmas celebrations in Japan include all the traditional elements. The Nativity scene is given a corner in every house. They also have turkey for Christmas dinner, Christmas trees, evergreens and mistletoe in their stores and homes and even their own version of Santa. The family members exchange gifts and send cards with the true heart of giving. It is still undeniable that Christmas celebrations in Japan are a time to spread happiness and romance.
Japanese Santa Claus: ‘Hoteiosho’
Hoteiosho, the Japanese equivalent of Santa Claus, who is a Buddhist monk who bears gifts for the children. It is believed that he has eyes in the back of his head so he can always see if children behave well (if they’re naughty or nice). He’s a jolly, happy soul, indeed.
The Christmas traditions of Japan for the Japanese Christians is spent for worship and charity for the poor and sick. The children perform plays re-enacting the Nativity scene on Xmas Eve. It is more common at this time of year for Christians to spend this time on good deeds and helping those in deed.
What may be considered as the unique Christmas Celebrations in Japan are Christmas Cakes, Fried Chicken , and ‘Daiku’.
The cake usually is a decorated sponge cake with miniature figures of trees, flowers, and Santa Claus.
Fried chicken has become the traditional meal (in Particular KFC – as the marketing surround Col. Sanders, still a common figure in Japan, dressed in Santa Garb) while the Daiku, which is the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, the favorite music of the season.
Meanwhile, the only cultural or public celebration of the season and the most important in the year is the New Year’s Day. The houses are cleaned and decorated and the family goes around the house to drive evil spirits out and draw in good luck in a manner probably influence by the Chinese.
Christmas in Japan is an experience that is unique and magical in its own way. Although it’s not a traditional holiday in Japan, Christmas has developed its own identity here and there is plenty to do to celebrate it Japanese-style.
Here are our top things to do to celebrate Christmas in Japan!
This is our top pick for celebrating Christmas in Japan because Japan truly does illuminations like no other. From November to February, you’ll find most major cities in Japan light up in beautiful, colourful lights. Some of the illumination exhibits tell stories and take their audiences on a journey. Others are just there to look pretty. Either way, Christmas and winter in Japan would not be complete without visiting some illumination displays.
Get festive at Disneyland
Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are known to go the extra mile for holiday seasons and Christmas is no exception. Feel the Christmas cheer through lavish seasonal decorations, brilliant festive parades and holiday music. There are special Christmas events, seasonal merchandise and snacks too.
One of the best things about it is that Christmas at both Disneyland and DisneySea start in November. So if you want to get your celebrations in early and beat the crowds, then you have the option of doing so. Although we would recommend avoiding the public holidays of November 3 (Culture Day) and 23 (Labor Thanksgiving Day)!
While they lack the same sort of festive atmosphere and are often much smaller than in Europe, Japan’s Christmas markets do a decent enough job of bringing the festive cheer to Japan. There are plenty in and around Tokyo, with a particularly popular one being the Yokohama festival.
The markets are a good place for those feeling a little homesick and wanting to do something festive on December 25th, which isn’t a public holiday in Japan. There’s nothing a glass of mulled wine and bratwurst can’t fix.
How about a date?
For many Western countries that celebrate Christmas, this time of year is about spending quality time with family and friends. However, in Japan it’s more customary for it to be about romance. Couples will celebrate the 25th by going out on a dinner date and giving each other presents.
Because of this, it gets difficult to make reservations at restaurants for Christmas Day. So make sure to get in early if you want to eat out that night!
Going to ski resorts is another extremely popular activity in Japan during this time. Bear this in mind if you do want to go skiing or snowboarding around Christmas time because you’ll need to book really early. The longer you leave it, the harder it will be to find accommodation and the cost of flights will be much higher than normal.
But, if you’re willing to put up with the crowds and you have the time, then skiing over the Christmas period can be a fun and wonderful way to celebrate.
Read more about some of Japan’s best places to go skiing and snowboarding.
Eat fried chicken
If you don’t know about this Christmas tradition in Japan, then you’ve been living under a rock! A marketing campaign in the 70s now means that a large portion of Japan thinks that eating fried chicken and specifically KFC is what much of the western world does for Christmas dinner.
They’ve wholeheartedly embraced it and you’ll need to think about booking your seat at your local KFC at the start of the autumn months, otherwise you’ll miss out. If you don’t fancy queuing at KFC, then FamilyMart and other konbinis have jumped on the bandwagon and offer their own fried chicken buckets for advance ordering.
Indulge in strawberry shortcake
When you think of Christmas cake, you might think of those heavy fruitcakes that nobody really enjoys eating. Japan, of course, does it a little differently. Strawberry shortcake is the cake of choice in Japan during this season and honestly, we don’t blame them. Composed of airy sponge cake covered with whipped cream and fresh strawberries, they are deliciously light and fluffy.
The best thing is, they’re not sold exclusively during Christmas time, so you can indulge your sweet tooth any time of year.
Christmas in Japan might not be what you’re quite used to in your own country. But, it is uniquely Japanese and that is what makes it something special. So why not take your date to KFC and follow it up with some cake under some winter illuminations?
For more information about Japanese culture keep following our Go! Go! Nihon blog.
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Japan has only a very small Christian population, so Christmas wasn’t traditionally a big festival. However, over the past few decades, it’s become more and more common to celebrate Christmas in a uniquely Japanese way. Although Christmas isn’t a public holiday, many workplaces and schools close, and families celebrate it together. Whereas you might mark the occasion with gingerbread cookies or roasted goose in Europe or the USA, in Japan you’re far more likely to dig into a bucket of KFC and a strawberry sponge cake on Christmas Day.
Intrigued? Here’s everything you need to know about Christmas in Japan.
How do the Japanese celebrate Christmas?
Christmas falls in the middle of several other holidays in Japan, in what’s an inevitably busy season. It’s celebrated by many families and kids especially are fond of it, but Christmas in Japan is certainly quite unique.
Christmas in Japan is considered a time of good cheer, but the religious significance of the day isn’t really considered important. As a result, the traditions adopted in Japan are quite different than elsewhere. Like much of the rest of the world, Christmas is considered a special time for kids who have parties with their friends and receive gifts and treats.
Many cities will be decorated with lights and trees through December and it’s becoming increasingly common to see Christmas Markets, like you might find in Europe. Shopping malls are decorated and special Christmas-themed products, gifts, and cards are all available.
The 23rd of December is a public holiday in Japan for the Emperor’s birthday, so schools will close and take a short break through to the New Year. Christmas Eve is treated something like Valentine’s Day, with couples giving each other gifts and going out to look at the Christmas lights which are displayed in the centre of towns and cities.
Christmas Day might be a normal working day for some, but those who are off will spend time with their family and have a fried chicken dinner together. Yes, really. More on that in a second.
New Year is the more traditionally important time in Japan. It’s the time when families come together to share a special meal. The New Year break is celebrated over 5 days, running from December 31st to January 4th.
Japanese Christmas food
The traditional Christmas dinner in Japan is – as odd as it sounds – KFC. Families will order buckets of fried chicken to eat together and it’s the busiest time of year by far at KFC stores. They have extra staff and accept orders in advance to be able to deal with the demand. As well as the regular options which are available all year round, there are lots of premium packages available over Christmas. You can get a pack with everything you need for Christmas, including food, wine and cake. All this is thanks to the first ever KFC manager in Japan, who started promoting ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ in the 1970s. With no Christmas tradition in existence, it was heartily embraced, and now an entire generation considers it completely normal to have your Christmas dinner from a fast food chain.
Aside from chicken, there’s a Japanese tradition of Christmas cake – but not a fruitcake as you might find elsewhere over the winter. Instead, the usual cake is a sponge cake served with cream and strawberries.
Christmas Eve and Santa Claus in Japan
Gift-giving has certainly become popular over the Christmas period in Japan. サンタさん (Santa San or Mr. Santa) brings gifts and can be found in shopping malls and kids’ parties throughout Japan.
Although couples usually give each other gifts at Christmas, they’re unlikely to give presents to anyone else. That’s because お歳暮 (Oseibo) is the tradition of giving gifts, usually at New Year, so people often hold off a few days and give their gifts then.
How much money do people spend on Christmas in Japan?
Japan is certainly not cheap and so the spending on gifts for Christmas and the New Year is pretty high. With several celebrations coming close together, it’s an expensive season. If you’re an expat in Japan, you might have to transfer money from your home account to your Japanese one, for gifts or to pay your way during the festive period.
If you do need to move your money internationally, don’t forget that banks often don’t offer the best deal. Even though many banks might advertise their international transfers as free or cheap, they often actually add a markup to the exchange rate. It’s how they make a profit. The full costs associated with the transfer aren’t always clearly set out, leaving you exposed to hidden fees.
Instead, you can ditch your bank and use a specialist service like Wise. Wise guarantees that they’ll use the real exchange rate – the same one you find on Google. With no hidden fees and only a small transparent charge, you can be sure you’re not being ripped off.
Another option, if you often have to move money internationally, is a Wise borderless multi-currency account. A borderless account lets you hold cash in several different currencies at the same time, including Japanese Yen. You can make and receive payments using the currencies you hold, or just exchange your funds using the real exchange rate whenever it suits you.
See for yourself if you can get a better deal with Wise.
When does the Christmas season start in Japan?
The Christmas calendar in Japan is driven somewhat by retailers as it’s a festival with more of a commercial feel than any religious significance. Stores will decorate and start to stock Christmas products in December or earlier.
Important festive dates for Japan:
|Japanese Christmas Holidays||Date|
|The Emperor’s birthday||23rd December (Public Holiday)|
|クリスマス・イブ (Christmas Eve)||24th December|
|クリスマス (Christmas)||25th December|
|大晦日 Ōmisoka (New Year’s Eve)||31st December|
|元日 Ganjitsu** (New Year’s Day)||1st January (Public Holiday)|
Many western expats living in Japan find Christmas there somewhat bewildering. The range of traditional – and not so traditional – celebrations and customs makes it a colourful and interesting season, but it’s certainly different to Christmas in the USA, Europe or Australia. Get involved, and you’re sure to have a great time.
With KFC fried chicken buckets, strawberry shortcakes and romantic dinner dates – not necessarily in that order
If this year is your first Christmas in Japan, you might be a little surprised (or even confused) at some of the traditions you witness. Even though only about 1 percent of the Japanese population are Christian, Christmas is still a pretty big deal over here (as you may have noticed with the plethora of Christmas markets and stunning illuminations dotting every corner of Tokyo). But the Japanese have their own spin on Christmas that doesn’t include any religious affiliations. We’ve broken down the three most important Japanese Christmas traditions and where they all came from.
KFC for Christmas
While elsewhere around the world, Christmas dinner usually means a fat roast turkey or a nice holiday ham, in Japan it’s all about the Colonel. When the first KFC opened in Japan in 1970, the store manager Takeshi Okawara (who would later go on to become the CEO of KFC Japan) had a sudden flash of inspiration during his sleep one night (as the story goes) – a Christmas ‘party barrel’. At that time, Christmas dinner in Japan was sort of ill-defined, and turkey was (and still is) extremely hard to come by. To Okawara, the party barrel filled a nice void. In 1974 the concept went national with the campaign ‘Kurisumasu ni wa, Kentakki’ or ‘Kentucky for Christmas.’
The idea went over like gangbusters and today an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families will sit down to a hearty feast of KFC on Christmas Day. The ‘party barrels’ have been redesigned as ‘Christmas dinner packages’ (much classier), and every year these holiday sets make up a whopping one-third (!) of KFC Japan’s annual sales. If you’re thinking about joining in the tradition this year, just be warned: this is no joke. If you want ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ you better order your package weeks in advance, or be prepared to queue up for hours at your local KFC.
Christmas cake: the sweet taste of success
Next on the Christmas to-do list in Japan, after you’ve put in your KFC order, is to reserve your Christmas cake. Japanese Christmas cake (always strawberry shortcake, with perhaps some chocolate santas or snowmen on top) is so ubiquitous come December that you can literally find it anywhere – bakeries, grocery stores, even convenience stores. This one actually has a bit of an interesting political history to it.
After Japan’s defeat in World War II, the economy was ravaged and the population was struggling immensely. Food was scarce and sugary sweets especially were an untasted luxury for most. The American Occupation forces led the effort to rebuild Japan, and the sweets they would sometimes hand out seemed like a little window into future splendour and prosperity. As anthropologist Hideyo Konagaya put it in a 2001 paper on the subject, ‘Sweet chocolates, above all, given by American soldiers epitomised the utmost wealth Japanese children saw in American lives.’
As the concept of Christmas gradually crept in during those post-war years, the economy also rebounded with almost unfathomable success. With its previously-unattainable ingredients now available everywhere, the Christmas cake became a symbol that Japan had finally ‘made it’. The strawberry shortcake was chosen as the favoured cake because its red and white colours reflect those in the national flag.
So while American children are lining up for Santa and requesting everything from toy cars to PlayStations, the Japanese will take a moment to reflect on their own wealth and good fortune with a more humble display – a quiet family feasting on Christmas cake.
In keeping with the holiday season, this time we want to delve into the role of religion in Japan and explain whether and how Christmas is celebrated in Japan.
Religion in Japan
Christianity is not a major religion in Japan”, so most holidays and rituals are connected to Japanese religions such Zen-Buddhism and the Shinto religion, which is overwhelmingly practiced in Japan.
Shinto, which can be translated as “the way of the gods/spirits”, is an ancient animistic religion that posits that mountains, rivers and other places are all inhabited by their own spirits, i.e., a deity with greater or lesser power.
Like Buddhism, Shinto is not a monotheistic religion but has a complex hierarchy of deities. Since these deities, or Kami in Japanese, can positively and negatively influence one’s own life, rituals must be observed in order to appease them.
Religion in daily life
However, many Japanese are very pragmatic when it comes to religion and sometimes follow customs from other religions too, especially if these rituals are associated with a practical benefit (like the promise of good luck or happiness). Before a university exam, for example, you will often pray at a Shinto shrine in hopes of securing divine support. For other aims, you might go to a Buddhist temple.
Many Japanese would say that they are not religious. However, if you ask more closely, it turns out that almost all Japanese come to pray at a Shinto shrine on January 1st.
Since this New Year’s ritual serves to ensure the blessings for the new year, one might assume the following point of view:
“I’ve been following these customs since I was a child. Who knows if there really are gods, but to be on the safe side I will of course continue to participate in these beloved traditions…”.
Rituals like this play a very large role in everyday Japanese life and are usually followed without much questioning.
Christmas time in Japan
Christmas is also celebrated in Japan, although the percentage of Japanese Christian among the total population is only around 1% as most Japanese are Shintoists and Buddhists. In Japan, however, it is not a decidedly religious festival, but a seasonal occasion during many shops are adorned with Santa Claus imagery as well as Christmas trees and stars.
For all non-Christian Japanese, Christmas Eve does not bear importance in the sense that was the birth of Jesus. Therefore, December 25th is not a holiday either but instead completely different traditions have developed.
Here is one example, the Japanese associate Christmas with things like a romantic dinner at Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC).
Many families, but also couples, flock to the KFC branches during this time to order out, recently lots of Christmas-themed meals with sparkling wine and chocolate tarts.
In Japan, Kentucky Fried Chicken makes about 1/3 of annual sales around Christmas Eve.
The reason for this, to a Westerner’s view possibly unusual tradition, is an advertising campaign from the 1970s with the slogan “KFC at Christmas!”.
Christmas wasn’t particularly celebrated before, but this slogan caught the Japanese imagination like wildfire and thus the connection between fried chicken and the happy holiday was forged in the Japanese public consciousness.
To this day, in Winter there is a lot of TV advertising for KFC with a Christmas theme.
Due to its popularity, you might have to reserve a table a few weeks in advance or face long queues if you want to eat at KFC with your loved ones.
What about gifts?
At the end of the year, smaller gifts and beautifully designed cards are offered to colleagues or the teachers of one’s children to thank them for the help over the past year. However, this is owed less due to Christmas in the Christian sense than more to a strong Japanese obligation to maintain interpersonal relationships.
One more thing…
Of course, all cultures borrow from other religions.
A Japanese expatriate that attended a JCO session recently remarked that she was a bit shocked when a local hardware store offered small Buddha statues for the garden, probably as an alternative to the garden gnome. These lay spread out in a big heap and bore with a neon-colored price tag stating “Special offer! Now only € 5.95 ”.
It goes to show how traditions of faith can be viewed with different outcomes under different cultural lenses.
Each December, Christmas is celebrated by people in countries all over the world, and Japan is no exception! Many of the Christmas customs seen in western countries can also be found in Japan, but often reimagined in a different way than you may expect.
There are also some new traditions that have been created by the Japanese, making Christmas in Japan a unique celebration of its own accord!
Japanese Christmas: A Holiday for Lovers?
Christmas is known throughout the world for being a Christian holiday, but in Japan it is treated as a secular celebration and tends to be celebrated regardless of one’s religion.
In fact, very few people in Japan consider themselves Christian, but the holiday of Christmas is enjoyed by people from far and wide in Japan.
One of the key differences is that Christmas in Japan is thought of as a holiday for lovers, rather than a time to gather with family. (In Japan, the New Year’s holiday is the time families traditionally gather). Typically couples will plan a romantic date, such as dinner at a special restaurant, or strolling the town to view Christmas lights.
However, for those whom Christmas has particular religious significance attached, churches offering Christmas mass can almost certainly be found in any major city in Japan.
Christmas in Japan is about Illuminations and Decorations
Winter illuminations are not necessarily related to Christmas, but to many, the two are completely intertwined. Each winter season, cities in Japan become full of twinkling lights, mesmerizing all who cross their dazzling path. In recent years, many business are opting for eco-friendly LED lights, which use significantly less electricity than the traditional varieties. Large scale projection mapping illuminations have also become a popular Christmas time feast for the eyes.
While the tradition of putting up a Christmas tree in one’s home is not common in Japan, many businesses and shopping centers will display beautifully decorated trees, along with other Christmas-themed displays that turn an ordinary trip to the mall into a magical winter wonderland experience!
Does Santa Visit Japan?
Luckily for Japanese children, the concept of Santa Claus is one Christmas tradition that is alive and well in Japan. Like other children worldwide, Japanese kids also look forward to a visit from Santa on Christmas Eve and a present waiting for them on Christmas morning.
Couples also may exchange presents for Christmas, but generally speaking, gift-giving plays a considerably smaller role than it does in Western countries.
One unique twist on the lore: in the Western tradition, Santa enters homes by climbing down chimneys – an act difficult to do in a nation where most homes lack this sort of entrance! However, ask most Japanese children, and they’ll have an interesting take: Santa is typically seen as some kind of magical ghost that appears with goodies!
A Uniquely Japanese Christmas Dinner: Fried Chicken
It may come as a surprise, but rather than feasting on a glazed ham or roast turkey, the most popular choice for Japanese Christmas dinner is fried chicken! In fact, the food is in such high demand during this time, that a certain American fast food chain takes pre-orders of their popular fried chicken bucket as early as November! However, even if you don’t place a special order, you can easily find plenty of fried chicken in convenience stores and supermarkets on Christmas Eve, along with pre-made roast chicken as well.
Japanese Christmas Cakes
For dessert, instead of gingerbread men, other cookies, or pie, it’s traditional to eat Christmas cake (‘kurisumasu keeki’, as it’s called in Japanese) with loved ones.
While Japan is certainly not the only country to enjoy cake at Christmas time, you might be surprised to learn that what they’re eating is not the usual fruitcake that’s typically eaten in European and American countries. Instead, kurisumasu keeki is usually a kind of sponge cake-based strawberry shortcake.
Japan’s love affair with Christmas cake dates back to 1922, beginning with the Fujiya confectionery manufacturer, who marketed the cream-covered cakes with the straightforward tagline, “Let’s eat cake on Christmas!” (“kurisumasu ni keeki o tabemashou”).
Unlike the humble fruitcake eaten in some other countries on the holiday, Japanese Christmas cakes were beautifully decorated with strawberries, sugar Santas, and other Christmas-themed edible ornaments. At the time, the ornate cakes were considered expensive and were slow to catch on with the general public. However, by the 1970s, eating kurisumasu keeki had become a Christmas Eve tradition among households in Japan.
These days in Japan, while the white cream and strawberry Christmas cake still reigns supreme, you can find Christmas cakes of various types and flavors. Some recent cakes have included chocolate, various fruits, hazelnut, and ice cream among ingredients. You can even find cakes modeled after popular characters.
Christmas in Japanese Pop Culture
While Japan has adopted many of the Christmas customs of other countries, over the years they have incorporated them into their own culture so well, they have made them their own. Before December even begins you can hear Christmas music in the air. Traditional and foreign pop songs are popular, but Japan has an abundance of Christmas songs all their own that have become traditional in their own right. Around this time of year you can also find many TV and anime episodes centered around the theme of Christmas.
If you are in Japan during the winter, please have a “Merii Kurisumasu!”—the Japanese way!
By: Billy Hammond
Christmas in Japan is quite different from the Chrismas celebrated in most countries in which the population has a large percentage of Christians or a Christian heritage. Only 1/2 of 1% of the Japanese population is estimated to be Christian, with the majority of Japanese being tolerant of all faiths: Buddhism, Christianity, Shinto, etc. In spite of this, the Japanese are great lovers of festivals and celebrations, including Christmas.
December 25th is not a national holiday in Japan, although December 23rd, which was the birthday of the Heisei Emperor, was a public holiday up until 2018. Although it is not an official holiday the Japanese tend to celebrate Christmas, especially in a commercial way. The Japanese celebrate Christmas Eve by eating a ‘Christmas Cake’ which the father of the family purchases on his way home from work (or his wife does in the case where he has to work on Christmas Eve). Stores all over carry versions of this Christmas cake and drop the price of it drastically on December 25th in order to sell everything out by the 26th. This has resulted in a rather interesting expression in which young girls are referred to as a ‘Christmas cakes’: marriageable until their 25th birthday and requiring heavy discounts to get married after their 25th birthdays.
In recent years, thanks to the marketing prowess of the folks at Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Christmas Chicken Dinner has become quite popular. Many Japanese even make reservations for their “Christmas Chicken” ahead of time. People line up at their outlets to pick up their orders. As a result of KFC’s brilliant advertising campaign, most Japanese now believe that Westerners celebrate Christmas with a chicken dinner instead of the more common ham or turkey.
Christmas Eve has been hyped by the TV media as being a time for romantic miracles. It is seen as a time to be spent with one’s boyfriend or girlfriend in a romantic setting, so fancy restaurants and hotels are often booked solid at this time. It is often also a time when girls get to reveal their affections to boys and vice versa. Because of this, extending a girl an invitation to be together on Christmas Eve has very deep, romantic implications.
Christmas presents are exchanged between people with romantic commitments as well as close friends. The presents tend to be ‘cute’ presents and often include Teddy Bears, flowers, scarves, rings and other jewelry. Christmas cards are also given to close friends.
Christmas presents tend to be things which are cute and sometimes slightly expensive because of the relationship to the person to which they are given to. More obligatory year-end presents are given during this season as well to people who have done you a favor during the year, however, in contrast to Christmas presents, they are given between companies, to bosses, to teachers, and family friends. These presents are known as ‘Oseibo’ and are generally things which are perishable or which wear out quickly for which the price can readily be checked because of the system of ‘on’ and ‘giri’ (loosely translated obligation and reciprocity). These presents are usually purchased at department stores so that the recipient can check the price and return something which relates to the scale of reciprocity.
For the more elderly couples, many hotels host dinner shows featuring major singers, actors, and actresses. Tickets to these shows, due to the season, are very pricy.
The Christmas season comes during the month of the year-end parties. Company groups, hobby groups, sports groups, etc. often book a section of a restaurant to have drinking parties, known as ‘bonenkai’ [forget the old year parties]. This phenomena leads to streets, subways, and trains full of people in varied states of intoxication during the season.
Christmas lighting and displays are often up at the end of October and this year many stores have displays featuring Teddy Bears. There is also a trend developing for make-it-yourself presents.
The New Year’s holidays, which constitute the main holiday season for the Japanese, come closer to the American-European idea of assembling family and friends. Christmas seems to be closer to the Western concept of St. Valentine’s Day.
Ever wonder what other cultures do for Christmas and how do they cope with traditions when residing in another country? This article aims to provide a glimpse into how Filipinos celebrate Christmas in a non-Christian country.
Christmas is Japan’s version of Valentine’s Day, with Christmas Eve being one of the most romantic days of the year. It is a time for friends and couples to get together and celebrate. Given there aren’t many Christians in Japan (about 1% of the population), Christmas is more of a celebration than a religious holiday.
The Definition of Christmas in the Philippines
Meanwhile, the Philippines boasts of being the only Christian country in Asia, where more than 86% of the population is Roman Catholic (the largest of the three branches of Christianity). It is understood that Christmas is the most important holiday of the year in the Philippines, with Christmas carols and decorations popping up as soon as the -ber months arrive. Don’t be surprised if Christmas trees and lights are displayed as early as September or October.
Christmas in the country is more of a family affair and is celebrated beyond Christmas Day. Families visit the church, hold multiple gatherings, and ensure that everyone in the household celebrates over food, music, games, and gifts.
The Filipinos’ Love for Festivals
It must also be pointed out the Filipinos love to celebrate and hold festivities in general. Whether it’s a historical or religious event, a bountiful yield of crops, or a delicacy that a particular place is proud of – there are countless festivals held all over the archipelago. After all, the Philippines is dubbed as the “land of festivals,” because they know how to bring culture and fun together.
It doesn’t matter where they might be in the world; once you have a Filipino community, expect a welcoming celebration of their culture and traditions
It doesn’t matter where they might be in the world; once you have a Filipino community, expect a welcoming celebration of their culture and traditions. In Japan alone, there are an estimated 282,798 Filipino residents as of December 2019, according to the Ministry of Justice statistics of foreign residents. Numerous Philippine celebrations are held annually in the land of the rising sun, as the Filipinos aim to share their festivals with the world.
Imagine bringing all of that music, dance, color, and food (a lot of it) into one festival in particular, and you have the annual Philippine Festival Japan, which has been going on since 2012. It is usually a two-day event usually held towards the end of the year when festivities are at their peak.
The most recent Philippine Festival Japan took place from November 30 to December 1, 2019, at Yoyogi Park, Tokyo. Sadly, due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s festival has been canceled.
Filipino Christmas Traditions Continued in Japan
Beyond the festivals, the Filipino community in Japan do not miss celebrating Christmas their traditional way. They continue to visit the church, like the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), an international Christian religious movement and the largest indigenous Christian church in the Philippines. The INC has over 28 branches in Japan, located from Sapporo to Okinawa.
Filipinos in Japan also get together with friends and loved ones to celebrate the religious holiday. They uphold traditions over a prayer ritual, hearty meal, games, and gift-giving. The family might not be complete for the holidays, but not much is missing when it comes to remembering what Christmas is all about.
Filipinos married to Japanese also celebrate Christmas together, the former sharing the holiday spirit with their spouses. Some are open to it and have embraced the tradition as their own, while others prefer to continue celebrating it the Japanese way.
Christmas Amid the Coronavirus
We can already expect that Christmas won’t be the same this year, regardless of tradition, due to the pandemic. However, this fact should not hinder anyone from celebrating the holidays while practicing safety measures. Filipinos who can’t be home for Christmas have already scheduled a family reunion via Zoom or Facebook Messenger.
It might not be as intimate or fulfilling as the usual family gathering, and there could be technical difficulties such as poor internet connection. Still, it will bring everyone close enough to that warm Christmas feeling spent with loved ones. We have technological advancement to thank for closing the gap on distance. They can even join in on the games or indulge in the Christmas salu-salo (feast gathering) at the same time with everyone.
Let’s not forget the gifts, which can be sent in advance through Lazada or Shopee (the two most popular online shopping platforms in the Philippines). There are also many ways for Filipinos to send Balikbayan boxes of goodies back home through courier services. This gesture allows family members to open something from someone special located over 3,000 km away.
Others could also set a Christmas get-together with those from the Filipino community and celebrate the special day with friends. A quick look online shows many are already getting ready for the holidays. Facebook buy and sell groups that cater to the community have begun selling Christmas favorites.
You can book your order of lechon (suckling pig), hamon (Christmas glazed ham), bibingka (sweet dessert made of rice), leche flan (caramel custard or purin), or pancit Malabon (a stir-fried noodle specialty from Malabon City). Various sellers are offering these delicacies online, which could be delivered just in time for Noche Buena (Christmas Eve).
Christmas is never complete without the pine trees and jingling bells. Fortunately, many stores in Japan are already selling Christmas trinkets. Head on over to Francfranc for a wide variety of holiday decorations or to IKEA, Amazon Japan, Toys r Us, or Nitori Japan for a Christmas tree. The latter are typically sold towards the end of November until December and can range from 3,999 JPY all the way up to 50,000 JPY for a real tree, which is sold at high-end stores like National Azabu Supermarket in Hiroo, Minato-Ku.
Filipinos are known to be resilient. You can expect that regardless of the current situation, workarounds have been set to uphold the traditions passed down across many generations. Christmas is a time celebrated religiously by the Filipino community. The spirit of giving and enjoying the holiday with family and loved ones will always accompany the Filipino community in any country.