Christmas has grown to become a worldwide holiday, with many countries putting a spin on how they celebrate it. Japan has a unique way of celebrating this festive season with several Japanese Christmas traditions. You may be wondering if there are even any Christians in Japan. Well, around two-thirds of the Japanese population practice the Shinto religion, where they pray to deities in the shrines, while only 1% -1.5% of the Japanese population practice Christianity.
Christmas has a long history in Japan, with the first one being celebrated in 1551 when Christian missionaries like St. Francis Xavier visited Japan. It was later banned after only a few years but started again in the late 1870s when Japan started interacting with other countries. Unfortunately, it was banned again during World War 2, but after the war, Christmas returned to Japan, and it hasn’t been banned since then.
Because of the small population of Christians, it is not a religious holiday in the country, instead, the Japanese have embraced the customs and traditions associated with Christmas and added their own twist. In this article, we'll delve into the heartwarming world of Japanese Christmas traditions, exploring the delightful customs that make this season special in the Land of the Rising Sun.
KFC Christmas Bucket
Yes, you read that correctly. In Japan, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) has become a Christmas tradition. The "Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii!" (Kentucky for Christmas!) campaign launched by KFC in 1974, where KFC suggested celebrating Christmas with a bucket of fried chicken and wine. This campaign was a hit for adults because, back then, Christmas food mostly involved cakes and sweets for kids.
The campaign turned the fast-food chain into a holiday icon. During the season, there is a life-size Colonel Sanders statue – dressed as Santa during the holiday in front of KFC franchises welcoming families across the country. Many Japanese families enjoy a KFC Christmas bucket on December 25th, but because of how popular this tradition is, they have to pre-order their meals weeks in advance.
A Christmas feast in Japan wouldn't be complete without a mouthwatering Christmas cake or “kurisumasu keki”. These cakes are sponge-based cakes layered with whipped cream and adorned with strawberries. Many countries have a traditional meal they enjoy with family on Christmas day instead of pies or cookies; in Japan, it is this iconic strawberry shortcake. The tradition started when a confectionery company marketed the cake with the tagline “Let’s eat cake for Christmas.” Since then, it has been sold in every street bakery during Christmas, but nowadays, people try other flavors instead of the original strawberry whipped cream version
Illuminated Streets and Trees
Just like in many other parts of the world, Japanese cities and towns light up with dazzling decorations that will blow your mind. As early as November, you can find beautifully illuminated trees, streets, malls, and restaurants, creating a magical atmosphere that lasts throughout the holiday season. For the best illuminations, go to parks, train stations, or historical monuments like castles. Some cities have their own unique displays for instance, in Tokyo, you can find artsy illuminations at Tokyo station, and there is also blue illumination in Ao no Dokutsu in Shibuya.
Christmas At Disneyland And Other Themed Parks
For many Japanese families, a visit to Tokyo Disneyland during the Christmas season is a must. Many theme parks in Japan completely transforms to match the holiday season. Disneyland offers Christmas fantasy special entertainment for the regular admission fee of $60 from November to December. Characters like Mickey and Minney change to their Christmas outfits, a large Christmas tree up to 15 meters high will be erected, and all the merchandise will be Christmas-themed. Then, Christmas lights would be spread across Tokyo DisneySea, making it the perfect location for a romantic evening. The Disney Christmas Spectacle is a magical experience for visitors of all ages, with parades, character meet-and-greets, and mesmerizing fireworks displays.
Japanese Christmas Markets
Japanese markets don’t mess around when it comes to Christmas. One aspect of the Japanese Christmas season is the emergence of Christmas markets inspired by the markets in Europe. These markets open from November to December and feature stalls with holiday treats, handcrafted gifts, and lots of food. One of the most popular markets in Tokyo is the “Roppongi Hills Christmas Market,” which is a replica of a similar Christmas market in Germany. The market is illuminated with lights, and you can buy German food and drinks there. If your pockets can handle it, visiting Christmas markets is a fantastic activity in Japan because it provides a delightful fusion of international traditions with a Japanese twist.
Japanese Anime Christmas Episodes
The world definitely owes Japan a big thank you for introducing anime, which turned into a global sensation. Many anime series release Christmas-themed episodes or songs during December. Yes, unfortunately, many Christmas special episodes are fillers that were not a part of the original manga series. But on the bright side, you get to see iconic characters wear Santa hats and engage in festive activities. Popular anime that Horimiya, My Hero Academia, and Kimi ni Todoke all have Christmas episodes. The fusion of anime with the holiday season adds a modern and playful dimension to Christmas celebrations in Japan.
For Japanese children, Christmas is a time of wonder and excitement. While not a traditional holiday in Japan, the concept of Santa Claus has been embraced with open arms. Children eagerly anticipate a visit from Santa and look forward to receiving gifts. Many Japanese parents dress up as Santa and give their children gifts. Malls and stores also feature Santa Claus, providing children with the opportunity to take photos and share their wishes.
Osoji - End-of-Year Cleaning
In Japan, it is a ritual to perform a big cleaning of your home to welcome the God of the new year. As the year draws to a close, many Japanese families participate in a thorough cleaning of their homes; this practice is known as "Osoji." It is more than physical cleaning, as you’re also supposed to let go of mental baggage. Even though this is more of a Shinto religious belief, the time for Osoji is before the new year, so some people clean before or after Christmas.
Japanese Christmas traditions are a delightful blend of international influences, cultural adaptations, and modern expressions of joy and togetherness. The country's unique take on the holiday season is a reflection of its vibrant culture and the universal themes of love, sharing, and celebration.
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This article was originally written by our freelance writer Umm-Kulthum Abdulkareem, and edited by us.