Although only 1% of the Japanese population are Christian, Christmas is recognised throughout Japan. In this article, we’ll look at how Christmas is celebrated in Japan and what to expect if you are spending December in Japan.
Is Christmas celebrated in Japan?
Christianity was once banned in Japan as it was seen as part of unwanted Western influence. However a small number of Christians remained in Nagasaki who celebrated Christmas in secret. Although Christianity is no longer prohibited, there are still relatively few Christians in Japan so not many people celebrate Christmas as a religious festival.
Japan was under American control for several years following WWII, and as a result many American traditions and holidays were adopted. Christmas was one of these, so many Japanese will understand Christmas and acknowledge it as a holiday period.
How is Christmas Celebrated in Japan?
Christmas is not an official holiday in Japan, so schools and businesses are open as usual. Christmas Eve is the main celebration, and is seen as quite a romantic occasion. Many couples will buy each other gifts and go out for a romantic dinner; it can be quite hard to get a reservation at a fancy restaurant or hotel on December 24th. In many ways Christmas Eve in Japan is similar to Valentines Day, with accompanying social pressure to have the most romantically perfect day. Spending Christmas Eve with someone is a big relationship milestone and indicates the relationship has becomes serious.
Christmas Day is quite low key and usually only children receive presents – supposedly from Santa. Many families will put up a Christmas tree and Christmas lights are put up around the city centres and on the outside of houses. A marketing campaign has lead to fried chicken being considered the traditional Christmas dinner, and KFC will take orders in advance. Afterwards Christmas cake is eaten; this is not a heavy fruit cake but a light sponge decorated with strawberries and cream.
What Other Holidays are Celebrated in Japan in December?
The current Emperor’s birthday is 23rd December, and this is marked by an official holiday. New Year is also a major festival in Japan, and one of the busiest times of year to travel. Many Japanese will take time at New Year to visit family so make sure to book travel and accommodation in advance if you are planning to be in Japan for New Year.