This is my second Christmas in Japan. I say that, but I should point out that that doesn’t actually mean very much because it’s not really Christmas in Japan. It’s more like my second December 25th here. That’s the time when I think how nice it’d be to eat a roast dinner with my family, initially refuse to eat Christmas pudding, but then have a little just so I can have some of the cream. Yeah that’d be so tasty.
When it comes to Christmas, I’m lucky because I live in a share house with about 60 other foreigners. That means that in my case I do actually get to eat a Christmas meal with friends, see a Christmas tree at home every day for a month, and do Secret Santa. However, on the whole, Christmas is celebrated differently here and I’ll explain how.
Christmas in Japan vs Christmas in the West
The first thing to understand is that Christmas is a relatively recent cultural importation from the West. Like in a big game of Telephone or Chinese Whispers, many aspects of it got lost in translation, or became transformed upon contact with Japanese culture.
Spending time with loved ones
In the West, Christmas is a religious holiday that’s been co-opted into materialistic celebration. In Japan, Christmas is a materialistic celebration that’s been co-opted into a romantic weekend. Instead of being a time to spend time with family, Japanese Christmas is more typically a time to spend time with your significant other. This may include buying presents, but probably not a Christmas dinner.
Alright, if you don’t know about this one, you might not believe me. However, try to pretend I’m telling you this in person and it’s not just something random you saw on the Internet. Okay? Alright, due to a peculiarly successful marketing campaign in the 80s, Japanese people now eat KFC for Christmas. Yes, it’s true. You pre-order a festive bucket, collect it before Christmas and microwave it for the big day. Yum yum.
One of the ways you know Christmas is still 2 months away is the sudden unavoidability of Christmas songs playing on shop radios. This is the same both in the West and Japan, and likewise urban areas become tastefully decorated with a glaring medley of festive lights. What you might not know, however, is that Japan likes to take this a step further. Large-scale projects are undertaken to transform areas into viewing spectacles, with people often then being charged entry to see them. These illuminations, whilst not always Christmas related, are often put up around this time of year and attract thousands of people who look up and say, “heeeee.”
According to my friend, “why are you getting so excited? They’re just lights.” Whilst not my cup of tea either, some of them actually are quite nice.
Spending time with loved ones 2
Japanese business culture heavily discourages doing things such as spending time with your family. You have a job, don’t you know, and your job is more important than family. You should spend time with your family on your days off, which you don’t have. Come to think of it, the company is your family. Now that that’s settled I’d like you to get a move on with those TPS reports. And don’t accidentally go home to see your wife and kids tonight, we’ve reserved a spot at the izakaya. Oh and by the way we’re sending you to work in the branch in Nagoya.
A guaranteed day off for you, your wife and kids to enjoy a lovely meal together and be thankful for everything you take for granted the rest of the year? Yeah, that’s a western thing. If you’re coming over here to work, enjoy your free time while you can. However, you do get New Year’s Day to visit a shrine.
If you love Christmas, consider living in a share house
Like I mentioned earlier, I do get to enjoy some aspects of Christmas. For example, this year’s Secret Santa got me a bottle of whisky and a penis thong. Living with a few westerners means I still get to sit around a table with friends and feel Christmassy. They’re not my family from back home, but they’re my family in Japan. 😉
Happy holidays everyone and let me know your thoughts and experiences about spending the holidays in Japan.