5 Reasons Christmas is Different in Japan

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Japan has this strange tendency to take western holidays and slightly alter them.  I mean, look at Valentine’s Day–girls, not guys, give the chocolate and flowers–wha?

While China just plain doesn’t celebrate Christmas, the Japanese have, much like Valentine’s Day, adopted Christmas and celebrate it in their own special way.  Japanese Christmas traditions are so strange and bizarre, most Americans are stumped–or frankly, borderline offended at the perception and celebration of this Christian holiday in the land of the rising sun.

Here are some Japanese Christmas traditions that have Americans shaking their heads:

Kentucky Fried Chicken!

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Mmmm… CHICKEN!

In America, we roast a Christmas turkey or ham for the holidays.  Maybe we’ll throw in some mashed potatoes, stuffing, and some pies for dessert.

But having KFC for Christmas?  Now that’s just blasphemous.

In Japan, Christmas KFC has become a tradition.  The Colonel somehow managed to link KFC and Christmas together many years ago with a promotional campaign, and it has stuck ever since.  Families around the island of Japan gather on Christmas eve to partake in some Kentucky Fried goodness.

Even I wasn’t safe from this tradition way out in the boondocks of Niigata, Japan.   In an effort to help me feel “more at home,” one of my host-mothers prepared a fried chicken meal just for me at our Christmas Eve dinner.  Touching, but still, somewhat off the mark.

Translates: It aint Christmas without Kentucky!

Translates: It aint Christmas without Kentucky!

While it aint no turkey or ham, I guess KFC is  probably a little more suitable than sushi or udon.

You Don’t Have Christmas Cakes in America?

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The Beloved Christmas Cake

In Japan, it is customary to order a Christmas cake in advance and enjoy it together as a family on Christmas eve, following the KFC.  These cakes are specially prepared at bakeries and other shops around the country, decorated with Santa, Rudolph and other Christmas images we’re familiar with around the world.  Japanese families book their Christmas cakes weeks in advance, and for them, eating this is a family tradition.

That’s why when I tell Japanese friends that we don’t have this so-called “Christmas Cake” in America, they think I’m lying.  Cake and Christmas, that’s basically what America is all about!

While the Japanese Christmas cakes are delicious, I think I prefer our usual Christmas pies that my family has here in the states.

Got a Date on Christmas?

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In the U.S., Christmas is a day for families.  We try to go home to see our parents and relatives, and Christmas day is usually confined to the home where we eat, watch movies, talk, play games, and eat some more.  The stores are closed and there’s not much to do other than stay in.

Japan?  Well, you better have a date on Christmas in Japan or you’re just a poor, lonely loser.

K (my best Japanese friend) messaged me on Christmas eve last year saying, I don’t have a girlfriend or date on Christmas so I’m drinking alone on Christmas.  Woe is me.

I thought: Wow, sounds like me on Valentines Day–but Christmas?

The Japanese use Christmas as a day to take their significant other out on the town.  Restaurants are booked solid weeks–even months–in advance for Christmas Eve.  Tokyo is filled with couples, arms locked, waltzing through the parks lit up with faux Christmas lights.  Don’t even try to go to date-spot-Disneyland single on Christmas Eve–you might feel nauseous from all of the lovey dovey couples walking the park.

Japanese couples also use Christmas as the day to, well, do the deed.  Japanese Love Hotels have record numbers for Christmas Eve and Day.  Ho ho ho!

So while I was homesick for my family on Christmas in Japan, my fellow Japanese co-workers and friends were more concerned about getting me a date.  Even my vice-principal tried to hook me up with another teacher on Christmas Eve.  Awkward, but I appreciated the gesture nevertheless.

Christmas Presents?  Only for My Girlfriend

photo credit: viveee via photopin cc

photo credit: viveee via photopin cc

On a positive note, Japanese people did not bring over the tradition of buying Christmas gifts for others.  While some may buy Christmas gifts for immediate family members, most Japanese only buy gifts for their boyfriend or girlfriend.

My wallet is still bleeding from Christmas shopping in 2014, so buying just one present just for the boyfriend would have been a very welcome change.

Japanese Christmas Songs!

Last Year when I worked in Shanghai, my awesome boss Takada-san was telling me about Christmas in Japan.

“When I think about Christmas, Tatsuro Yamashita’s song comes to mind.”

“Tasuro…Yama…who?”

“You never heard it?” Takada-san was astonished.  “Let’s listen to it now.”

(Surprisingly, the MV is about finding love on Christmas).

The Japanese have made their own horde of Christmas music, as seen here on Muza-Chan’s lovely Japanese Christmas song collection.

And of course, Japan’s favorite Christmas song ever is: WHAM’s Last Christmas.  Really.  They can’t get enough of it.

Christmas in Asia and Around the World

Japan may have made Christmas into a strange and commercialized KFC holiday, but at least they try to incorporate it into their culture and have fun with it.  In China, the trees and lights go up in Shanghai, but little else is done on the day itself.  I have yet to hear a Chinese Christmas song.

While these are some of the more memorable Christmas differences I can remember from my time in Japan, are there any that I happened to miss?  Any interesting Christmas stories not just from Japan–but other places in Asia and abroad?  Please share!

11 thoughts on “5 Reasons Christmas is Different in Japan

  1. Marta says:

    I had no idea about Christmas in Japan. Interesting! The part about being a day to spend with your partner seems to be spreading to China also. All the restaurants were full of young couples on Christmas Eve!

    • rubymary says:

      I was starting to sense the romantic Christmas vibe in Shanghai last year when they were having special date promotions at restaurants and other establishments. It’s so bizarre–how did Christmas become a date holiday!? I guess the lights and the cold weather make it romantic.?

    • rubymary says:

      Thanks for the comment!!

      Nothing like a 20pc bucket of chicken for Christmas, haha! I must admit, I did have KFC once in China as a Thanksgiving substitute. I guess it’s the closest thing to turkey one can get in Asia!

  2. Kim says:

    This is all very interesting. I wouldn’t have guessed that KFC was a Christmas staple here, nor that there was such a thing as Christmas cake. I’m happy to see this warm and fuzzy spin on Christmas has evolved but I would probably avoid being out that night so I wouldn’t have to be surrounded by mushiness. I hope this kind of Christmas catches on in China, but I guess people are protesting the celebration of non-Chinese holidays.

    • rubymary says:

      Really!? They’re protesting the celebration of non-Chinese holidays!? I do have to say, while I missed Christmas in China I think I’m going to miss Lunar New Year over here in the United States. I’m going to miss those cheesy new year songs playing in all the shops (gong xi fa cai!) and seeing red wallpapered on everything. Of course, I’ll also miss eating eating eating!

      I do hope China starts to celebrate Christmas a little more, too–but please, no KFC!! haha

  3. Kelly says:

    Ah, the KFC and Christmas cakes are hilarious. I noticed that some of the more Westernized neighborhoods in Korea decorated with lights and trees, but mostly, Christmas was just a couple’s holiday.

    • rubymary says:

      Ah yes I wonder how Christmas became so romantic in Asia?

      Although I wasn’t a huge fan of the KFC on Christmas, I loved the cakes!

      I hope you had a very merry holiday, Kelly 🙂 Happy new year!

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