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Exploring Japanese Christmas Traditions

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Although Christmas has only been celebrated in Japan for the last few decades, many of the classic traditions of sending Christmas cards and gifts are now commonly seen all around the country. The Japanese see Christmas as a time for friends and families to come together and to spread happiness. It is common for co-workers, friends and relatives to give gifts during this period, as well as during the month of June; these gifts are called Ochugen and Oseibo and tend to be items such as alcohol, food or other Japanese gifts and hampers. Discover more of the interesting Japanese Christmas traditions below:

Santa or Hoteiosho

The Japanese alternative of Santa Claus is Hoteiosho; he’s a Buddhist monk with a very jolly and happy personality. Often images of Hoteiosho will be placed around the house for decoration, and to remind the children that he is always watching to see if they’re being good! Stories relating to this jolly gift giver often say that he is all-seeing, as he has eyes in the back of his head. He delivers the gifts to each child between the 24th December and 4th January, rather than all in one night like Santa Claus. 

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is a romantic day for couples in Japan, and this is often when they will exchange presents and spend some quality time together, in a similar way to how we celebrate Valentine’s Day in the UK. This means that young couples can enjoy each other’s company and some peace and quiet before the busy Christmas and New Year events fully commence. Commonly, couples will embark on a long walk to see the Christmas lights, followed by a romantic restaurant meal. It is notoriously difficult to get a table booking on Christmas Eve in Japan for this very reason!

Christmas Day

In Japan, Christmas Day is not a national holiday; often businesses will remain open as usual, and sometimes even schools. The school term tends to finish between the 23rd and 26th December, just in time for the New Year’s celebrations to begin. However, in the evening of 25th December, there are often parties held for the children which will involve dancing, playing games and eating the Japanese alternative to a Christmas cake!

KFC on Christmas Day

Now, this is possibly one of the most unusual Christmas traditions to be found all over the world, but often, people in Japan will enjoy a meal of KFC in place of a traditional Christmas dinner! The trend for this started back in 1974, when a marketing campaign called ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ took the country by storm, making fried chicken a staple dish for the big day! As this has long been a tradition, you can now pre-book your Christmas order days or even weeks in advance!

Merry Christmas

The Japanese version of ‘Merry Christmas’ is ‘Meri Kurisumansu’ or めりーくりすます.

Japanese Christmas Cake

In Japan, a traditional Christmas cake is quite unlike the heavy fruitcake enjoyed elsewhere. Instead, it is a light and fluffy sponge, decorated with fruits such as strawberries and plenty of whipped cream. These cakes can come in many shapes, and will often also be topped with decorative pieces such as figures of Hoteiosho, gifts, Christmas trees and other festive elements!

New Year

New Year celebrations typically last five days, usually spanning from December 31st until January 4th. This is the time when families come together for quality time with one another, with many relatives travelling from afar to see in the New Year as a group. The host family will prepare a special meal, gifts will be given, and songs will be sung. This is seen as a replacement for the lack of celebrations on Christmas day itself.

If you are interested in finding out more about how Christmas is celebrated in Asia, then check out our guides to Chinese Christmas traditions and Thai Christmas traditions

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