Christmas is just around the corner. Aren’t we all excited for this festive season? I know I am! In Japan, they too celebrate Christmas. Over the years, the country has adopted many foreign customs and traditions, and that included this Western holiday. 

However, just like everything else, Japan adds their own twist to this tradition and makes it their own. Of course, you’ll still hear jingle bells and Christmas tunes all throughout the country, but there are just a few celebrations that are unique to Japan only. In this article, we’ll take a look at the top 5 ways Japan celebrates Christmas differently from the usual.

1. A Holiday for Lovers

Generally, Christmas is known as a Christian holiday. Most of the Western world goes all out for this time of the year. Well, so do the Japanese. However, it’s treated more like a secular celebration regardless of religion. In fact, there are only a few percent of Japanese people that consider themselves as Christian, and mostly consider themselves as Buddhist or Shinto.

On top of that, Christmas is usually celebrated as a family. Members of the family come together and gather regardless of where they are in the world to be together during this time of the year. However, in Japan, it’s more of a celebration for lovers. It’s quite rare that you celebrate this as a family, unless you have young kids and make a practice of celebrating it the Western way. 

Usually, couples would plan romantic dates for the Christmas period, like a dinner at a fancy restaurant or strolling around festive areas in town with Christmas lights. 

2. KFC Chicken Feast!

Yes, the rumours are true. During Christmas time, the Japanese go crazy for KFC fried chicken! Rather than feasting on glazed ham and roasted turkey, the most popular choice for Christmas lunch or dinner is a good ol ‘bucket of fried chicken from the fast food chain KFC!

In fact, the popularity is so ridiculous that some outlets take preorders months in advance and the dates get sold out so quickly! Last year, I had friends who made orders as early as October! It’s no joke here for the fight for KFC chicken. It’s the real deal!

But hey, if you’re not fast enough to snag a bucket of KFC fried chicken, there are tons of other stores and convenience stores that offer them during this time of the year. They’re not the same, but they’re close enough, I reckon.

3. Christmas Illuminations & Markets

Japan goes all out for this time of the year. I love being in Japan during this season. Everything’s so colourful and lively. And that’s all thanks to winter illuminations that start up as soon as Halloween is over. Japanese cities are lit up with twinkling eco-friendly LED lights. Tokyo is probably the most festive city in Japan during this season. You see trees decorated with these lights, all down the street. 

Attraction sites have their own winter special illumination events, too. Flower parks and amusement parks have special decorations just for this season. Even shopping malls turn an ordinary trip to the mall into a magical fantasy experience.

Speaking of decorations, shopping for Christmas decorations and decorating the house is also a thing here. And where else can you get them other than Christmas markets? Of course, local supermarkets and convenience stores offer them too, but you get unique, authentic ones at these Christmas markets. 

From the beginning of December, a lot of them pop up, especially in Tokyo. The most popular one is the German Christmas Market in Roppongi that always brings in thousands of visitors every year! Other parts of Japan have Christmas markets too, including the northern city Sapporo.

4. Special Christmas Cakes! 

When we think of Christmas desserts, we think of gingerbread men, other types of cookies and also pie. Japan is number one when it comes to dessert, so you would think they would have them all.

Close. They have Christmas cakes! Cakes aren’t only enjoyed during your birthday. During Christmas, getting a special Christmas cake is a big tradition practiced here! They’re not the usual fruitcake that you would usually eat in European and American countries. Instead, the most popular kind of cake for this season is the sponge cake-based strawberry shortcake!

This love affair Japan has with cakes date back to 1922, when the confectionery manufacturer Fujiya started marketing cream-covered cakes with the tagline “kurisumasu ni keeki wo tabemashou!” (クリスマスにケーキを食べましょう) to mean “let’s eat cake on Christmas!”

Although, while the most popular choice of cake is the strawberry shortcake, I have heard from my Japanese friends that they also opt for chocolate cake nowadays. Maybe the trends have changed now, and any type of cake, as long as it’s marketed as a Christmas cake, will do?

5. Japanese Version of Santa 

We’re all waiting for the main question: what about presents? Not to fret everyone, the concept of Santa Claus and practice gift-giving is still alive and well in Japan. Kids in Japan look forward to a visit from Santa and opening presents under the tree on Christmas morning. Couples also exchange gifts, and usually done on Christmas Eve instead.

Here’s a fun unique twist: Western tradition has Santa climbing down chimneys. This is pretty difficult to do in Japan when a lot of people don’t have one in their homes. So instead, Santa is seen as some kind of magical ghost with exciting treats!

However, as compared to Western countries, gift giving isn’t that significant. It plays a much smaller role. It may be because that Japan has their own gift-giving day known as “Oseibo” (お歳暮) at the end of the year. .

Have a Merry Japanese Christmas! 

If you abide by these five fun facts of Japanese Christmas, you’re going to have one hell of a unique holiday! Whether or not you live in Japan, if you’d like to spice up your holiday, why not celebrate Christmas the Japanese way? Have a merry Japanese Christmas, everyone!