7 Fascinating Facts About How Christmas is Celebrated in Japan

7 Fascinating Facts About How Christmas is Celebrated in Japan

Christmas in Japan is a fascinating blend of tradition and novelty, where the Western holiday meets the Eastern world and transforms into something uniquely Japanese. In this land where Shinto shrines coexist with neon-lit streets, December 25th isn't just another day—it's an occasion that has been embraced with a twist that could only come from the land of the rising sun.

From finger-licking fast food feasts to love stories rivaling any Christmas rom-com, the Yuletide season here unfolds like a series of unexpected gifts—each more intriguing than the last.

So, buckle up your Santa belts, we're about to sleigh through seven captivating customs that illuminate how Japan decks its halls with boughs of... well, let's find out!

1. Christmas Eve is More Celebrated than Christmas Day

The Emphasis on Romance during Christmas Eve

In Japan, Christmas Eve (December 24th) tends to be a bigger celebration than Christmas Day itself. There is a strong emphasis on romance during Christmas Eve, with many couples exchanging gifts and going out for romantic dinners. It's seen as a special night for couples to spend quality time together.

One reason behind this is that Christmas Eve coincides with a traditional Japanese romantic holiday in December called "Koibito no Hi" meaning "Lovers' Day". So the Christmas Eve celebration has absorbed some of these existing romantic traditions in Japan.

Unique Traditions and Reasons Behind Christmas Eve Celebrations

In addition to the romantic focus, there are some other unique reasons why Christmas Eve is so widely celebrated in Japan:

  • Christmas Eve is thought to be a lucky night. Many Japanese people stay up until midnight on Christmas Eve, believing that it will come true if they confess their love to someone at midnight.

  • It's the night when KFC chicken sees a massive spike in sales, as it has become a popular Christmas meal. People often preorder their KFC "Christmas Chicken" weeks in advance.

  • The Christmas cake (a sponge cake with strawberries and whipped cream) is extremely popular on Christmas Eve. Cakes are seen as good luck symbols on this night.

  • Many stores and public spaces have beautiful Christmas light displays during December, with the lights turned on Christmas Eve night. It creates a festive, romantic atmosphere for couples to walk around.

So while Christmas Day is a national holiday in Japan, Christmas Eve tends to be the bigger night of celebration, gift-giving, and romance.

2. Unusual Christmas Feasts

The Popularity of KFC during Christmas

One of the most fascinating aspects of a Japanese Christmas is the popularity of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) as the Christmas meal. Ever since KFC launched its first Christmas meal campaign in 1974 featuring chicken pieces and cake, it has become a beloved tradition.

It's estimated that around 3.6 million Japanese families eat KFC chicken on Christmas Eve every year. Many people place their orders 2 months in advance to avoid missing out. There are often long queues outside KFC stores leading up to Christmas.

Here are a few reasons why KFC became so popular for Christmas in Japan:

  • There was an early marketing campaign labeling it as "Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!" (Kentucky for Christmas!) and it stuck.

  • A lack of turkey meat made chicken an appealing alternative Christmas dish.

  • Having Western food like fried chicken was seen as fashionable and a taste of American Christmas culture.

Other Unique Food Traditions in Japan during Christmas

While KFC remains the top choice for Christmas dinner, some other popular holiday food traditions in Japan include:

  • Eating Christmas cake - a light sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream

  • Eating fried chicken from outlets like KFC or Yoshinoya

  • Tasting the Christmas McFried Chicken menu at McDonald's

  • Enjoying a Christmas-themed strawberry shortcake from stores like Patisserie

  • Drinking hot drinks like hot wine or hot cacao

  • Ordering Christmas-themed meals from convenience stores like 7-Eleven

So while traditional Western roast turkey or ham meals aren't very common, the Japanese have certainly developed their own unique Christmas dinner customs!

3. Religious Significance of Christmas in Japan

The Role of Christianity and Buddhism

Despite the widespread popularity of Christmas celebrations in Japan, the holiday has little connection to Christianity or religious observance for most Japanese people. It's estimated that only around 1% of Japanese people are Christian.

So while a minority of Christians do observe the religious meaning of Christmas in Japan, for most people it is seen as more of a secular celebration. There are some connections drawn to Buddhism's similar message of peace and goodwill, but not generally a religious association.

The Christmas holiday is still respected though, with public Christmas displays even in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines around Japan. So while not religious per se, it harmoniously fits alongside Japanese spiritual traditions.

The Symbolism of Christmas in Japanese Culture

Despite the lack of religious meaning for most Japanese people, Christmas still holds symbolic importance in Japanese culture:

  • It represents childhood innocence and a magical, romantic atmosphere

  • It aligns with cultural values like social harmony, goodwill, and romance

  • It allows people to show care through gift-giving and quality time

  • The Christmas lights and decorations create a sense of celebration and hope

  • It creates economic opportunities like date nights, parties, and shopping sprees

So while not anchored around Christianity, Christmas still holds a strong cultural significance for the Japanese people.

4. Gift-Giving Practices

The Importance of Gift Giving during Christmas in Japan

Exchanging gifts is certainly practiced in Japan during the holiday season, but it looks a little different from Western customs. Rather than happening on Christmas Day itself, most Japanese people exchange gifts on Christmas Eve instead.

Gift-giving is primarily seen as a way to show thanks and appreciation to close friends, partners, family members, or work colleagues. The gifts don't have to be extravagant, but rather the thoughts and feelings behind them are most important.

According to tradition, women typically give gifts to men on Christmas Eve and men give gifts in return on White Day in March. But this isn't a hard rule.

Typical Christmas Gifts in Japan

Some popular Christmas gift ideas in Japanese culture include:

  • Gift certificates or vouchers

  • Fruit baskets featuring staples like apples, grapes, and oranges

  • Beauty products or skin care sets for women

  • Chocolates, biscuits or fancy desserts

  • Warm winter items like scarves, gloves, or blankets

  • Romantic gifts for couples like jewelry, fragrance, or lingerie

  • Electronics, video games, and anime merchandise for teenagers

  • Toys and candy for children

So Christmas gifts in Japan tend to be small, thoughtful presents to show gratitude rather than big extravagant items. Simple but symbolic gifts are the most common.

5. Christmas Decorations and Illuminations

Christmas decorations and illuminations are a major part of holiday celebrations in Japan. From city streets to shopping centers to private homes, lots of effort goes into festive displays and lights.

Popular Christmas Decorations in Japan

Some popular Christmas decorations seen around Japan include:

  • Christmas trees (both natural and artificial) decorated with ornaments, garlands and star toppers

  • Wreaths made of pine, eucalyptus, or other evergreens hung on doors and walls

  • Christmas garlands strung up around shops, stations, and city streets

  • Inflatable Santa, reindeer, and snowmen figures placed in gardens and parks

  • Miniature Christmas villages created from model buildings, trees, and figurines

  • Stereotypical imagery like Santa Claus, chimneys, stockings and presents

Department stores often have massive, ornately decorated trees to capture the Christmas spirit. Homes also tend to have small trees to cozy up the atmosphere.

Famous Christmas Light Displays

In addition to decorations, dazzling illuminated light displays are a key part of Japanese Christmas. Some of the most famous include:

  • Blue Cave Shibuya - a sparkling blue tunnel of lights in Shibuya crossing

  • Roppongi Hills Christmas - the iconic Roppongi spiderweb tree illumination

  • Yebisu Garden Place - a glowing walkthrough canopy of lights in Ebisu

  • Tokyo Midtown Illuminations - sparkling corridors lined with 1 million LED bulbs

  • Laforet Harajuku Christmas Forest - a whimsical light display surrounding the Laforet Museum

  • Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse Lighting - creative images projected onto red brick walls

The abundant Christmas lights help create a warm, festive mood for celebrating Christmas Eve across Japan's urban centers.

6. The Role of Children during Christmas in Japan

How Children Celebrate Christmas in Japan

Children still play a central role in Christmas celebrations across Japan. While Santa Claus gift-giving isn't as common as in Western culture, parents still make Christmas magical for kids in various ways:

  • Kindergartens and schools hold Christmas events, plays, and parties

  • Special Christmas meals like cake, fried chicken, or strawberry shortcake

  • Christmas decorations at home like mini trees, stockings, and lights

  • Watching Christmas movies and anime specials together as a family

  • Small gifts from Santa like candy, puzzles, stuffed toys, etc.

  • Visiting Christmas light displays at shops, parks or zoos

So while Japanese Christmas is more couples-focused, children still get to experience the magic and joy of the holiday season.

Santa Claus and Other Children-centric Traditions

The Santa Claus (or サンタクロース) folklore still play a role in Japanese Christmas for kids as well:

  • Department stores have Santa figures to meet and take photos with

  • Tales share the story of Santa making & delivering presents worldwide

  • A Santa costume makes appearances at school events and parties

  • Letters to Santa are sometimes written with gift requests

So while Santa doesn't play as strong a role as in the US, he still brings some festive magic for children during the holidays.

7. Christmas Music and Entertainment

Popular Christmas Songs in Japan

Classic Western Christmas songs like Jingle Bells or Silent Night are widely known and covered by Japanese artists. Some other popular Christmas music choices include:

  • Merii Kurisumasu (Merry Christmas) - a classic Japanese Christmas pop song from the 70's

  • Holy Night - the Japanese version of Silent Night, often sung in schools and churches

  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer - this song took off after it was featured in a 1974 children's anime

  • Last Christmas - the Wham! pop hit from 1984 remains widely loved even today

  • All I Want for Christmas is You - Mariah Carey's hit song plays widely in stores and cafes

Along with Western songs, these Japanese Christmas pop culture tunes get heavy rotation during the holidays across Japan.

Christmas-themed Shows and Events

The Christmas spirit takes over much of Japan's entertainment scene as well during December. Some popular examples include:

  • Illumination shows at zoos, gardens, and parks across Japan featuring Christmas lights & music

  • Special Christmas edition stage shows for popular performance groups like Takarazuka Revue

  • Christmas markets in cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Sapporo featuring food, gifts, and performances

  • Hotels and restaurants offering special Christmas-themed meals and event packages

  • Amusement parks like Tokyo Disneyland have parades and shows for Christmas

  • Television countdown events to Christmas Eve across major networks

So Christmas entertainment helps conclude the year with magical, festive experiences across Japan.


From glistening temples to the sparkle of the Shibuya lights, Japan's unique Christmas customs offer something for everyone. Whether you're looking for a festive feast or a heartwarming story, there's something special here that will make every holiday season memorable.

So why wait? Get ready to explore the vibrant culture of Japan together and find out what the holiday season has in store!

And as always, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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