When you think about countries that celebrate Christmas, you probably don’t think of Japan – and for good reason. Because Japan is primarily a Shinto and Buddhist country, the Japanese don’t have many religious ties to Christmas as a national holiday. That being said, many people have adopted traditional holiday celebrations and even created new ones. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon for the Japanese to celebrate Christmas on December 25th, just like the rest of the world. To learn more about what the Christmas season looks like in Japan, keep reading on!
Japanese Christmas Traditions
Believe it or not, one of the most common Christmas traditions in Japan revolves around the popular American fast food restaurant KFC. That’s right, an estimated 3.6 million people celebrate with a meal from KFC in Japan for Christmas, and the demand is so high that people begin placing their orders up to six weeks before the big day.
So how did this Christmas tradition begin, anyway? It all started over 40 years ago when the manager of Japan’s first KFC, Takeshi Okawara, overheard a conversation between foreigners discussing how they missed the food back home during the holidays. This inspired him to create and sell a party bucket on Christmas, and the concept proved to be so successful that KFC has become the most popular place to score a meal on December 25 in Japan.
Another bite that you’ll likely see at Christmas dinner is the kurisumasu keki, or “Christmas cake.” This tasty treat features a sponge cake base with whipped cream frosting and a number of strawberries inside and on top of the cake. During the holidays, you can practically find a Japanese Christmas cake sold on every corner, despite the fact that only 1 percent of Japan actually celebrates Christmas. But it’s because the country has embraced the season not as a religious holiday, but rather as a chance to celebrate prosperity, that Christmas (and all the traditions that it comes with) has become such a beloved time of year in Japan.
Though gift-giving is a huge part of the Christmas culture in other countries, it’s not a very popular practice in Japan. However, Japanese gift wrapping, also known as furoshiki, is meaningful in itself. Gifts may be exchanged between couples on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but beyond that, they’re not likely to give presents to other people. But December isn’t completely gift-free in Japan, because the Japanese have a tradition at the end of the year called oseibo where people give gifts to co-workers, friends, and family. It’s a part of Japanese culture to thank those who have helped them throughout the year and show their gratitude.
Oseibo gifts are usually exchanged no later than December 20, and the presents are usually food or alcohol-related. Plus, the country celebrates Japanese Lunar New Year a few weeks after Christmas as well, and because gift-giving plays a big role during the traditional Japanese holiday, there isn’t really a need to give out presents on Christmas Day.
Disney knows a thing or two about magic, but the Christmas season at Tokyo Disneyland takes the magic to a whole new level. Christmas decorations are prevalent throughout Tokyo Disney to get you in the holiday spirit. Stop by the theme park to catch the “Christmas Fantasy” event, which is based on “storybooks filled with the Disney Friends’ Christmas fun,” or check out the special Disney-style Christmas celebration with fireworks displays, collectible merchandise, delicious holiday menu, and so much more.
You might have a house in your neighborhood that’s always so blinged out in lights that it’s practically become a tourist attraction, but you’ve never seen Christmas lights like the ones in Japan. No matter where you go during the holiday season – shopping malls, restaurants, or public areas – you can rest assured that the lights will be on full display.
How To Spend Christmas In Japan
Despite what the line outside KFC might tell you, the Japanese don’t really celebrate Christmas on December 25. This is because Christmas is not a public holiday, and therefore many people don’t have the day off and are unable to spend the holiday with their families. Christmas Eve, however, is a much more celebrated holiday, and in fact is considered to be the most romantic day of the year. On December 24, you’ll likely see couples on dates, exchanging gifts, and admiring the lighting displays around town. Many restaurants even offer special couples dinner packages on Christmas Eve, similar to the ones you might find on Valentine’s Day.
Best Places To Shop For Gifts In Japan
Though the best gifts come from the heart, a good place to start looking for inspiration are the various Christmas markets that pop up throughout Japan during the winter season. Here, you’ll be able to find everything you need to deck the halls, including tree ornaments, mulled wine, and more. In terms of the best holiday markets worth checking out, the Tokyo and Sapporo Christmas Markets are both great options filled with lots of goodies and holiday cheer. However, with so many versions of the market spanning from the North to the South, you really can’t go wrong no matter where you go.
If you can’t make it to a market, you can also pick up holiday essentials like Christmas trees, ornaments, and other decorations on sale at major department stores and shopping centers throughout Japan but especially in the big cities.
The Perfect Japanese Gifts from Bokksu
Unable to make it to Japan for Christmas? No problem! Bokksu has plenty of holiday-inspired gift boxes available on Bokksu Boutique, so you can celebrate Christmas just like you would in Japan, all from the comfort of your own home. Bokksu’s 2022 Holiday Collection includes can’t-miss delights like the Original Sweets Gift Basket and the Premium Tea Box that make for the perfect addition to any Christmas party (and a great excuse to treat yourself to a holiday present, too).
Not to mention, new subscribers to Bokksu’s monthly Japanese snack box subscription service will not only have their first order wrapped and delivered in a traditional furoshiki, but will also score a Mt. Fuji sake cup, and kimono robe when they buy a 12-month subscription for Christmas. So what are you waiting for? It’s the Christmas gift that keeps on giving all year long.