Christmas in Japan: Learn Japanese Christmas Traditions

Published December 25th, 2014

Christmas is a magical time of year for many people around the world. It is a time for family, a time for giving, and a time for lots and lots of delicious food. But how are Japanese Christmas traditions different from Western ones? Does Japan even have Christmas traditions? Well, despite only 1% of Japan’s population being Christian, the Japanese have fully embraced the Christmas season. From decorating the house, getting a Christmas tree, and even sending cards and gifts, Christmas in Japan looks very similar to a Western Christmas. Let’s learn Japanese Christmas traditions!

santacon christmas in japanSanta Claus is easily the most famous face of Christmas and it is no different in Japan. You will see サンタさん *(*Santa-san) in many department stores as the holiday season approaches. Additionally, each year there is a SantaCon festival in Shibuya, Tokyo where people can come dressed up as the jolly giver of gifts and help raise money for charity. This year the festival benefitted the Japan Animal Welfare Society. You don’t have to donate to attend, but サンタさん loves generous people! While Santa may be the same around the world, there are also some interesting differences in how the Japanese celebrate this beloved holiday.

kfc-christmas in japan

Kentucky Fried Christmas in Japan?

One of the most notable deviations in Japanese Christmas from Western Christmas is the traditional meal. Instead of a Christmas turkey, many people order a bucket of “Christmas Chicken” from KFC. But how did such a strange custom begin? Well, back in 1974, KFC launched an advertising campaign with the slogan, “クリスマスにはケンタッキー!” which translates as “Kentucky for Christmas!” and it instantly caught on. Many Japanese people believe that KFC is an American holiday tradition as well. The fast food chain offers a Christmas meal complete with fried chicken, cake, and champagne! But be sure to order in advance if you want to avoid the long lines on Christmas Eve. christmas-cake christmas in japanIf you decide to skip the Christmas chicken, then you will definitely need to get a Christmas cake (クリスマスケーキ). Originating at the beginning of the 20th century, the Japanese Christmas cake is usually a sponge cake topped with whipped cream and strawberries, and decorated with little Christmas trees or a small Santa Claus figure. The focus of the celebration in Japan revolves around Christmas Eve, so make sure you’re not late picking yours up! And if you have a boyfriend or girlfriend during Christmas, prepare to be romantic. Though people with families may buy gifts for their children, couples are expected to go all out. Christmas is considered such a romantic holiday in Japan that being single on Christmas is the equivalent of being single on Valentine’s Day in the West! But don’t worry if you’re single. By Christmas morning the decorations are gone and preparation for the Japanese New Year begins right away!

So Merry Christmas! Or as they say in Japan, メリークリスマス!