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)