Christmas in Japan


Christmas is not celebrated like it is in the west. Christmas is seen more as a commercial event particularly embraced and encouraged by merchants. In Japan Christmas is mainly about gift giving and romance! The major religion in Japan is Buddhism and Shinto with only 1 per cent of Japanese people being of a Christian faith or belief. Hence most Japanese people are unaware of Christmas religious roots and customs. Even among the Christian Japanese, Christmas is not a day for the family like it is in America and Europe. There is no traditional meal or plum pudding instead it is a day spent giving to others especially doing nice things for those that are sick in hospitals.

However it is common in Japan to give Christmas presents. The main celebration in Japan revolves around Christmas eve and not Christmas day. Presents are given to children but children do not give presents back to their parents. The idea is that only Santa brings presents so once you no longer believe no presents are given!

In Japan Hoteiosho is a priest or a God who closely resembles our Santa Claus. Hoteiosho is depicted as a kind old man carrying a huge pack in which he brings presents to local houses for the children. Children think he has eyes in the back of his head, so they behave at their best in case he is nearby.

The Christian faith was first introduced into Japan in the sixteenth century by Jesuit and later by Franciscan missionaries. Even though few in Japan are Christian or have an understanding of traditional Christmas customs, in a survey conducted by among young Japanese people, a majority of 54 percent responded that Christmas today means something special to them, with women and teenagers showing a particular attraction.

In another survey done by 74 percent of people responded to celebrate Christmas in Japan with a Christmas cake. Their Christmas cake is usually made of sponge cake, strawberries and whipped cream or just as popular is a strawberry gateau.

Most people decorate their shops and homes with evergreens during the Christmas period. Japanese families have a small evergreen tree in their home which may be mistaken for a Christmas tree yet it is actually a traditional Japanese religious decoration for the new year. New year’s day is the most important day of the whole calendar in Japan. However artificial Christmas trees are now appearing in shops but not yet popular. People are also placing lights on the outside of houses for decoration while shops are keenly seen to be glowing with decorations and particularly lights.

While we in the west are following traditional Christmas customs in December, in Japan they are preparing for their most celebrated day of the year ‘New Year’s Day’. People prepare by thoroughly cleaning their houses on new year’s eve then adding special decorations. People dress in their finest clothes often being traditional Japanese kimonos. A tradition is for the father of the house to be followed by all the family as he marches throughout the house driving away evil spirits. Custom is for the father to bid evil spirits to withdraw and good luck to enter as he throws dried beans into corners of each room. The family then attends the Shinto Shrine where they clap hands to get the attention of the ‘gods’ and request good fortune. People send new year’s day cards like people send Christmas cards in west.

Christmas time especially Christmas eve is a time for boyfriend and girlfriend to get together, exchange gifts and spend a romantic dinner and evening together much like Valentines day celebrated in the west. Advertisements appear for special Christmas eve and Christmas day hotel and restaurant dinners and shows, generally with a strong romance theme. It’s been said that single women don’t like to talk about the Christmas occasion as they feel left out. There has been much sarcasm towards single women alone on Christmas eve. As an example cake shops with cakes left after Christmas are seen as being old and out of date. Women of 25 years and older who are single have been referred to jokingly as ‘unsold Christmas cake’.

Wondering how to say ‘Merry Christmas’ in Japanese? It’s simply ‘Merry Christmas’! Although writing ‘Merry Christmas’ in Japanese is a little trickier: メリークリスマス

Visit to listen to ‘Conversations with Mrs Claus’ podcast show. Mrs Claus (aka Christmas author Bernadette Dimitrov) visits Christmas author and teacher Christopher Byrnes in Japan where he has currently lived for the last 8 years. A fascinating insight into his Christmas experiences in Japan and he gives away a F*R*E*E Christmas resource ebook which features a step by step guide to making a Japanese origami Christmas tree! Also come visit and join their free Christmas newsletter!

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