Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas in Japan

I didn't sign up for the Virtual Advent Tour initially because we don't really have a big celebration for Christmas, but Kailana asked me whether I'd like to post something on Christmas in Japan so here is a little about how we spend this time of year.

In fact I always have a hard time feeling completely festive this time of year in Japan because a) there's no snow and I adore a white Christmas! and b) most importantly Christmas isn't quite Christmas here. At least not the kind of Christmas I grew up with. First of all December 25th is just a regular work day (the year end holiday officially begins on Dec. 29th), and even if it were to fall on a weekend, most Japanese seem to think Christmas is only celebrated on Christmas Eve anyway. Needless to say, despite the small percentage of the population that are Christians, for this largely non-practising Buddhist/Shinto nation, Christmas is a borrowed festival, but one that they have somehow made their own.

In recent years, most of the major shopping areas have lots of lights and decorations. So most places you go shopping you'll see Christmas trees, and there will often be Christmas music playing in the background. Nothing remotely religious though, no Silent Night, or Away in the Manger, and no Nativity Scenes anywhere. Instead Santa reigns supreme and it's Jingle Bells, and We Wish you a Merry Christmas! You don't see many lights or decorations on homes though, and I miss that. This year I got a little Christmas tree for our apartment though, and I have to say it makes me smile every time I look at it.

Christmas 2009
The Christmas decorations at our nearby shopping mall.

As I mentioned, December 25th is just a regular day, but December 23rd is a National Holiday as it's the current Emperor's Birthday. Since H had the day off (but working again as usual today and tomorrow) we decided to celebrate our Japanese style Christmas yesterday.

Christmas in Japan typically involves fried chicken, and cake. Turkeys are very rare and usually only to be found in import food stores in central Tokyo. Even whole chickens aren't too common in the supermarkets because Japanese kitchens just don't have anywhere to cook them. Nowadays you can buy a combination microwave/convection oven but it's not quite the same, and still on the small side. So thanks to some clever marketing, KFC has become the standard Christmas meal with people lining up on the 24th to buy their buckets of Christmas chicken. This is then followed by the 'oh so traditional' Christmas cake which is most commonly a version of strawberry shortcake with lots of white icing. Of course there are all kinds of choices available nowadays though, and the department stores offer some super fancy ones. Not a big fan of KFC, H and I started our own Japanese Christmas tradition a few years ago of Christmas sushi, we are in Japan after all, followed by the aforementioned cake, which I have to admit is mostly for H's benefit as he has a major sweet tooth. So yesterday we went to a nearby kaiten sushi restaurant (click on the link to visit the previous post), and this year* we opted for a chocolate Bûche de Noël from a local cake shop.

Bûche de Noël Christmas 2009

*Last year we were in Canada for Christmas but I've posted about our Japanese style Christmas before: Christmas 2007 and Christmas 2006.

Not your usual Christmas dinner, eh?! However, tomorrow, the 25th, I'm going to make a more Canadian style Christmas dinner with chicken, and gravy, and stuffing and cranberry sauce. More my idea of a proper Christmas meal anyway. And then next week we'll spend some time with the in-laws to celebrate New Year's. In Japan, New Year's is the main event. It is like the Western world's Christmas. Everyone is off work then, and it's the time to visit family, laze around the house, and eat traditional food, which I'll post some photos of in the New Year.

But for everyone getting ready for Christmas tomorrow, メリークリスマス (Meri kurisumasu), and however you celebrate, I wish you all a very Happy Holiday!


  1. Great post! I did my advent on Sinterklaas (Dutch Christmas). Very cool reading about Japanese style.

  2. As someone who also has quite a sweet tooth - that cake looks absolutely delicious.

    I'm glad you and your hubby have made Christmas your own - so that it works for you.

  3. It sounds like fun all the same...and those photos are awesome! Merry Christmas!

  4. Yes I've heard how the no-work holidays there in Japan greatly differs from that of the Western world (and even here in the Philippines). But you've got more holidays right?

    Anyway, your pictures of Japan never fail to make me wish I was living there.

    Have a lovely lovely weekend with your family! :)

  5. Lovely photos; thanks

    Wishing you a wonderful time with family or friends :)

  6. I'm really glad you posted about this because I was just wondering about it yesterday! I hate KFC, blegh, glad I'm not having that for Christmas. I don't really know what a typical American Christmas is anymore. Half my friends order pizza for Christmas haha.

  7. I'm glad to hear that despite living in the country that really doesn't celebrate Christmas, you still manage to make it your own anyway. Great post too, I am glad you decided to write it since I was always curious about Japan and what they do there for Christmas.

  8. love it! so interesting to see what goes on there. the blue lights seem to be a trend this year. thanks for sharing this holiday with us.
    btw: you've just been awarded

  9. I was just listening to NPR and they mentioned how KFC is very popular in Japan for Christmas dinner. So interesting to read about this.

    Hope you guys are having a wonderful Christmas and enjoy your Canadian style dinner tomorrow - sounds yummy :)

  10. This is such a great post! I didn't think about how Christmas is celebrated in other countries. I know KFC is making a ton off of the holiday.Merry Christmas.

  11. Oh, dear. I'm not sure I could celebrate Christmas with KFC. Not my favorite, although Rod loves it.

    We're hunkered down "enjoying" our Midwest Blizzard. No trip to Sanibel Island this Christmas. Oh, well. I have plenty to read. Just need to drag myself away from this computer!

    Hope you had a lovely Christmas, Nat.

  12. Thank you so much for sharing about Christmas in Japan, Nat! It's really interesting how much has been adopted and yet still how different it is.

    I hope you had a wonderful Christmas!

  13. I love this, Nat. I remember your past posts on this very topic--especially the Christmas strawberry shortcake. I didn't remember the chicken part, though. lol

    I hope you had (and have) a wonderful holiday season.

  14. This has to be one of my favorite parts about the Virtual Advent Tour -- reading about traditions that are so different from the ones my friends and I grew up with. Thank you for sharing how you celebrate abroad!

  15. Thanks so much for posting about Christmas in Japan. I think that seeing what happens in other countries is one of my favourite things about the Virtual Advent tour.

    Thanks for participating!

  16. I hope you had some wonderful holidays, despite the unusual way it is celebrated in Japan :-)

    May I add, as a German native, that the German chocolate cake (from 2007) is nothing I have ever seen around here? ;-)

  17. I love all those blue lights! Very pretty :-) Merry Christmas!

  18. This was so interesting. I really enjoy reading about other cultures and their traditions and how they celebrate events. Excellent post. Happy New Year to you and may 2010 be a wonderful year.

  19. Oops! For some reason I thought I'd already replied to comments on this post. Sorry! Better late than never?
    Anyway, thank you everyone for your kind comments and holiday wishes. I hope you all had a lovely Christmas and that the new year has started out well for you.

    Pam - I don't think I commented on your vlog but I enjoyed hearing about Sinterklaas. It's fun to hear about how different cultures celebrate.

    Lena - To be honest, it was a bit too sweet for my taste but H loved it!

    Thanks celi.a!

    Mark David - Yes there are quite a few more single holidays scattered throughout the year here in Japan. The nature-related ones always amuse me since we have nothing like them in Canada. Like Marine Day, or Greenery Day, or the fact that the Autumn Equinox is a national holiday. There are never any long holidays though which is too bad. The most people usually have off at a time is a week or occasionally up to 10 days counting the weekends. It's still a nation of work-a-holics!

    Thanks Diane!

    Ash - LOL. I wouldn't mind pizza for Christmas, as long as I could still have turkey too. ;)

    lilly - In recent years it does get quite festive with the lights and decorations, and it's fun to have our own traditions.

    Velvet - Yeah, I saw lots of blue lights this year. And thank you so much for the award!! :)

    Iliana - Well I guess whoever was in charge of marketing for KFC certainly did their job right! ;)

  20. Vasilly - KFC Japan definitely makes a load of money at Christmas! It's fun to hear how Christmas is celebrated in other places, isn't it?

    Les - Sorry again that you didn't get to go away as planned for the holidays. Hope you read lots of good books though. :)

    Wendy - Japan has definitely made Christmas its own. I always find it interesting the things that get adopted here and others that don't. It often seems to make no sense, to me at least. ;)

    Andi - I hope you had a wonderful holiday too with your family! What's even funnier (frustrating?) is that no one ever believes me when I tell them that Christmas cake isn't traditional at all!

    sprite - I agree, it's fun to see how the holiday is celebrated differently in other countries.

    Marg - Ditto on what I said to sprite. And thank you, to you and Kelly, for organizing the Virtual Advent Tour!

    Kathrin - I'm not surprised that the supposedly "German" cake isn't German at all. LOL. :)

    Thanks Janet! I hope you were able to spend a happy holiday season yourself.

    Jenny Girl - Thanks! I hope 2010 is a great year for you too!


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