Christmas in Japan is kind of weird. Well, weird if you’re from a country where everyone is mostly Christian. Christmas here is not a religious holiday. Something like 1% of the Japanese population is Christian. It’s also not a family get-together kind of of holiday the way it is in Western countries. (That’s what New Year’s is for — Oshogatsu, or the Japanese new year, is the big holiday.) But at the same time, Christmas here has a lot of the same stuff as Western Christmas — Santa Claus, Christmas carols everywhere (usually in English), Christmas decorations, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, etc. It’s basically what Western Christmas would be like if you removed the religious aspect completely. It’s a commercial holiday, and also a romantic “date night” for couples. Sort of like Valentine’s Day in North America, I guess. People go out for fancy dinners, or eat KFC. They buy each other gifts (but not millions of gifts the way we tend to do). They eat Christmas cake. Christmas Day isn’t a national holiday here; everyone goes to work. (Christmas Eve was a holiday this year though, only because the Emperor’s birthday — an actual national holiday — fell on on the Sunday before.)
As weird as it is, it’s also kind of nice. With the absence of religion (and all the baggage that comes along with that), Japanese people have embraced Christmas wholeheartedly. “Merry Christmas!” is everywhere and “Happy Holidays” doesn’t exist. It’s just a fun holiday, with no strings attached.
Japanese people are really into Christmas lights — or “illumination” as they’re called here. This is the some of the Christmas illumination in Roppongi, but there are illuminations all over Tokyo (and all across Japan).
Cute Santa cutouts outside a mall in Tokyo Midtown.
This tree was made up entirely of a zillion tiny Santas!
There’s a lot of seasonal winter foods around now too. Japan likes its bizarre Pepsi flavours, and the one for this season is Pepsi White in a “snow mikan (orange)” flavour. I have no idea what a snow orange is (don’t oranges grow in warm climates?), but it was actually kind of tasty. Some of the past Japanese Pepsi flavours have included cucumber, shiso, baobab, and salty watermelon.
Another flavour that’s in season now is ichigo (strawberry). There are tons of strawberry desserts and strawberry drinks and strawberry-flavoured everything. Again, I don’t know why strawberry is a winter thing, but it is.
I bought these cans of chu-hi (a Japanese alcoholic drink — pretty low in alcohol though, around 3%) at the ¥100 store. They’re all seasonal winter flavours — more strawberry and orange. (Also, how awesome is it that they sell alcohol at the dollar store?)
I did not eat KFC on Christmas Eve*, but I saw lots of KFC employees dressed as Santa Claus handing out chicken orders (you have to order your Christmas chicken in advance) when I walked by. There were more Santa Clauses trying to sell the last of their Christmas cakes outside 7/11, and I even saw little Japanese kids dressed up as Santa, which was adorable.
* I ate some non-festive but delicious sushi instead.
I spent my Christmas Day at Tokyo DisneySea (the second of the two parks at Tokyo Disneyland). It was a little strange to wake up on Christmas morning and have everything seem so… normal. A lifetime of going to bed on Christmas Eve full of barely-contained excitement will leave anyone feeling a little disappointed to wake up in Tokyo, where Christmas is just another day. DisneySea ended up being the perfect cure. Although I don’t really like Disney parks (Disney World in Florida is ugh), DisneySea was brimming with Christmas cheer (and Duffy bears) and was actually really fun. But I’ll post more about that in the next entry!