Holiday Season in Japan: A different Xmas experience!


Just in time for the Holiday Season I get often the question on how actually Christmas is celebrated in Japan. For sure the approach to the Holiday Season is different in Japan. The only actual national holiday during this period is December 23rd (birthdate of the present emperor), when December 24th or 25th is not a national holiday in Japan. From my perspective several unique Japanese traditions were created for this Western event:

Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Christmas Chicken Dinner: A brilliant advertising campaign from KFC made many Japanese believe that a common Western style Christmas dinner includes chicken (or then promoted by KFC fried chicken). Still rather many families make reservations for their special dinner ahead of time, so that Daddy can pick up their orders on the way home. In case if you want to stand in line this year so that you can get your special Holiday Season treat too, check out the pre-order website of KFC Japan (including their commercial with lots of happy kids).

Strawberry cake: If the fast food dinner chicken is not your favorite choice, then at least the father of the family has to purchase a strawberry cake on his way home from work. It seems according to TV channel 4 (Nippon Television) in 1922 Fujiya was the first company offering strawberry cakes for the Holiday Season, when the previous versions from Fujiya did not yet include strawberries. This special cake became so popular that now more or less all department stores and bakeries in Japan offer a choice of it. In case if you want to try to real thing, you need to hurry for the pre-order including special plate at Fujiya, because it ends soon on December 16th.

Romantic Christmas: Most likely the idea of Christmas being an event for couples, not so much for families started in the early bubble period. According to TV channel 4 (Nippon Television) from 1985 onwards TV shows and pictures related to the Holiday Season shifted from a family image to a romantic couples event. Especially then with the JR Tokai commercials it become a must as a boyfriend or girlfriend to spend time together around the December 24/25th. Note the Christmas Express in the commercials below from JR Tokai from 1988-1992:

The Holiday Season is the time for romantic miracles. In a romantic setting, preferred in fancy restaurants and hotels room, it is a once per year chance as a girl to reveal her affections to her boy and vice versa. Consequently, this period has become very important for hotels and restaurants, which can charge higher than usual rates. On the other hand, I am wondering whether this year changes in the economic situation of the younger generation can be felt at the restaurants and hotels, or potentially I am completely wrong, because you cannot put a price tag on love. I have heard in some cases that if a girl is very sly, this is the season to collect lots of presents and good food, while making sure to rush off in time before the expected transfer to the hotel occurs…

As a side comment, so far I had never experienced people wishing me a happy Holiday Season, but solely “Merry Christmas”. The idea that the holiday celebration is based on the religious belief is not common knowledge, or then the thought that a “Merry Christmas” could be offensive for non-Christian does not come up. I guess the main reason is simple, because information on Yule, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or other religious traditions around the year end are not known in Japan.

Wishing everyone a very joyful pre-Holiday Season,

Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

11 thoughts on “Holiday Season in Japan: A different Xmas experience!

  1. Your blog is fine. Believe it or not, when christmas near.. evrybody can feel it in the air.. so , lets celebrate moments of joy ^_^

  2. how are you? I was lucky to discover your blog in google
    your post is fine
    I obtain a lot in your theme really thanks very much

  3. For westerners it is clear that Christmas is Christ + mass. But in Japanese Christmas is called Kurisumasu and Christ is Kirisuto. That difference should one reason that the holiday has become a day for cakes.

    Anyway I feel sorry that you see the Christmas end all of a sudden at night on 24th December.

    • Dear Andante,

      good to have you back commenting here.
      You make a very good point about the difference in Katakana writing.
      Don’t worry for me that everthing ends already at December 24th. Starting with December 1st the Advents Season starts and I can open either a door containing sweet goodies in a calendar or then some different sort of daily special treatment. As December 23rd is a National Holiday in Japan, I am able to invite every year my closest friends for the yearly all day Christmas Party. Then on the evening of the 24th the whole Advents period ends for me with a special “once per year dinner”, then exchanging presents with my husband. Honestly usually I am truly getting tired of all the celebration and sweets by December 25th, so I need a break until next December.

      In case you are enjoying as well the pre-Christmas goodies, wishing you a Happy Advents Season,

      Sibylle Ito

  4. By the way, speaking of the KFC campaign to make Japanese think than in the West a “traditional KFC dinner for Christmas” is all the rage, well, I should note that many of my Jewish friends here in the U.S., and around the U.S., consider Chinese food “traditional Christmas dinner.” No kidding. This is because in years past Chinese restaurants were the only thing, at least the only kind of restaurant, open in the U.S. on Christmas day. Now lots of places are open, but, as I said, to many Jews in the U.S. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without Chinese food.

    You see? Sometimes my country can be fun and quirky, too.

    • Dear Richard,

      thanks for sharing the story about Chinese food as the “traditional Christmas dinner”. I had not heard about it. We can now say Christmas is experiencing Asian influence… the advantage of a world becoming more and more global.

      Happy Holiday Season,

      Sibylle Ito

    • Dear Stephanie,

      thank you for taking time to visit my blog. Please feel free to let me know any topic that you would love to hear more. I am open to explore other topics too.

      All the best,

      Sibylle Ito

    • Dear Andante,

      thanks for commenting again. I truly do appreciate it.
      Let’s be honest Christmas, Holiday Season, Valentines Day, Easter, Oshyogatsu… all these events can be used solely for commercial reasons and I believe quite a few people don’t want to be bothered with knowing the actual origin. I think it is sad, but not everyone is into history or culture study.

      Wishing you all the best for the Holiday Season,

      Sibylle Ito

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