Christmas not widely celebrated as a religious holiday, as there aren’t many Christians in Japan, but expect to find many western Christmas traditions such as Christmas trees, lights, gift-giving, sending cards, and Santa Claus.
In Japan, Santa Claus is known as “Santa-san”, or Mr. Santa. However, the culture also has another seasonal gift-giver, the Buddhist monk Hoteiosho, who gives gifts to well-behaved children.
Christmas Eve is seen more as a romantic day for couples to spend time together. They can exchange presents, go for walks looking at all the Christmas lights and decorations, and share a romantic meal at a restaurant, much like how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in western nations.
Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan. However, since it falls between The Emperor’s birthday, December 23rd, and New Year’s Day, January 1st, which are both national holidays, some schools and businesses may be closed on Christmas Day as part of a New Year holiday break.
In 1974, Kentucky Fried Chicken, or KFC, launched an ad campaign in Japan called “Kentucky for Christmas!”, featuring a Colonel Sanders Santa. It was a huge success, and as a result having KFC around Christmastime is a wildly popular tradition.
The traditional Japanese Christmas Cake is a sponge cake decorated with strawberries, whipped cream, trees, flowers, and Christmas figures like Santa Claus.
The final act of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the Ode to Joy, is an especially popular piece of music in Japan around Christmas. It’s known simply as “Daiku”, which means number nine in Japanese. It’s believed that it was first sung in Japan by German prisoners of war during World War One around Christmas.
One popular activity in Christmas in Japan is visiting Tokyo Disneyland, which opened in 1983. During their Christmas season, which begins the 2nd week of November and runs until Christmas Day, people can come see the extravagant decorations and magical parades.
However, the more important celebration in Japan around this time of year is the Japanese New Year. Houses are cleaned and decorated, and families come together to feast and spend time with one another. This New Year Season is celebrated from December 31st to January 4th.