While Christmas is not recognized as a national holiday, since only about 1 percent of the entire population identifies as Christian, it is a festivity that is highly celebrated. Despite its origins as a Christian holiday, Christmas is widely observed as a secular celebration in Japan and is embraced across various cultural and religious backgrounds.
In fact, in a research released by LINE Research last year, they asked Gen Z’s of Japan about events they would like to participate in 2023, And “Christmas” ranks first overall among the events Gen Z is looking forward to in 2023.
In this article, we’ll explore the diverse and unique ways in which Japanese people celebrate Christmas, showcasing the fusion of traditional customs with contemporary practices that make this holiday season special in Japan.
Season for Dating?
In Japan, there exists a prevailing stereotype that positions Christmas as a romantic holiday primarily reserved for couples. The origin of this belief can be attributed to various theories, with one suggestion tracing it back to Yumi Matsutoya’s 1980 song, “恋人がサンタクロース” (“My Lover is Santa Claus”), which conveyed the sentiment that Christmas is a time for men to bring presents to women. Consequently, this notion has persisted, framing Christmas as a day for gift-giving between romantic partners. According to a LINE research study, approximately only half of Japanese individuals celebrate Christmas with their families, while less than 20% spend the day alone, and around 30% opt to spend it exclusively with their spouse, partner, or loved one, reinforcing the prevalent emphasis on romantic connections during the festive season in Japan.
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If Japan has hanami (looking at flowers) during spring, and momiji-gari (hunt and go looking for autumn foliage) during autumn, Christmas season in Japan brings you illuminations! Lighting up the streets to bring business to the area is such a big thing in Japan that there are even sites that would update you when and where you can find illuminations nearby.
Although it is not common in Japan to decorate a Christmas tree at home, many stores and shopping centers have beautifully decorated trees and Christmas-related displays, making everyday shopping a bit more like winter.
This is something that would surprise any foreigner who sees Japan during Christmas for the first time: the long queue at KFC. Japan had embraced Kentucky for Christmas since its release of the “Kentucky for Christmas” advertising campaign in 1974. It’s a normal scene in Japanese people’s homes to have chicken on their Christmas table, and for the sake of tradition, it has to be KFC. As soon as November started, KFC had already opened for reservations for their Christmas menu to enjoy Christmas to the fullest this year.
A tweet of someone lining up to buy KFC Christmas chicken surprised at the length of the queue at an early time on Christmas morning | Source: @Misera_RieAsami on X
Another thing that won’t be absent at Japanese people’s table during Christmas, besides Kentucky Fried Chicken, is the Christmas cake! Not just any cake, but it has to be a strawberry shortcake. Why? Also because of a campaign called “Let’s eat cake for Christmas!” by Fujiya, a popular confectionery store in Japan, in 1922. Some even say that Fujiya is credited with introducing the Christmas cake to Japan.
Luxurious Christmas Shortcake Filled with Amao Strawberries by Fujiya | Source: PR Times
Commercialization and tradition intersect in intriguing ways during the Christmas season in Japan. While Christmas is not rooted in Japanese religious or cultural history, it has been embraced and transformed by the commercial sector. The marketing campaigns by businesses, such as KFC and Fujiya, have introduced new traditions like enjoying fried chicken and strawberry shortcake during the holiday. These traditions have become so deeply ingrained in Japanese Christmas culture that they are now expected elements of the celebration. The fusion of modern consumerism and traditional customs exemplifies how Japanese society adapts and evolves, creating a unique and vibrant Christmas experience that marries commercial elements with cherished holiday traditions.