After returning from Fuji-kawaguchiko on Christmas Eve, I spent Christmas day in Tokyo with my fiance.
Christmas in America is a mainly religious holiday, celebrating the birth of Jesus, and often involves some combination of church visits, family visits, turkey or ham and lots of other food. Even if the people celebrating it are not particularly religious, presents are exchanged and extended families gather together.
Christmas (クリスマス) in Japan is not primarily a religious holiday, and although most Japanese understand the Christian origins of the holiday, they celebrate it without a religious underpinning. Christmas presents from parents are common for families with young elementary school students, but after the 4th-6th grade (depending on the family), presents are limited to birthdays. Christmas is not commonly a holiday where extended families gather, and rather than turkey or ham, Kentucky Fried Chicken is a common holiday meal. For dessert, a Christmas cake is common. This is usually a sponge cake, topped with strawberries and whipped cream.
Rather than being a family-oriented holiday, Christmas is instead mainly regarded as a couples holiday. Couples make reservations at restaurants with special Christmas courses, and then may make a trip to a nearby love hotel. Illumination (Christmas light) events, Christmas gifts, and other Christmas-themed events are primarily directed at couples, making Christmas a very commercial holiday.
My favorite part about Christmas in Japan is the illumination イルミネーション, which is usually a very elaborate Christmas light display. The major places throughout Tokyo and other major cities offer huge, elaborate displays of Christmas lights that twinkle, sparkle, morph, and fade with timing to specific music and patterns. These displays usually happen at night, which comes early enough in winter to have a nice enjoyable show. Most illuminations start in early December, where they mostly run on weekends, and run up to Christmas, when the shows become more frequent.
Coming from the US, one of the most interesting things about Christmas in Japan is that amongst all the Christmas decorations, the Christmas atmosphere, and the Christmas themes is that most people are just going about school and work as usual on Christmas day. Since Christmas is not a national holiday, salarymen and other employees must go to work as usual, and children must attend school as usual. Students are also usually preparing for exams at this time, and so they have to go to school on the weekends more often than not. Christmas is a national holiday in America, and other than grocery stores that are open for a few hours and movie theatres, things generally shut down completely. When I was a kid almost everything was shut down, and even though more things are open for limited hours, many places still remain closed on Christmas Day.
Christmas at Tokyo Station/東京駅のクリスマス
For Christmas, we made reservations at a restaurant near Tokyo Station 東京駅 with a set course French dinner. I had never had a French meal, but my fiance’s mother dines at French restaurants often, and so she instructed me beforehand on the proper use of utensils for each course. The restaurant overlooked Tokyo Station and its traditional illumination. We arrived early, and slowly watched the restaurant fill up with couples for Christmas dinner. After eating a fancy four-course French dinner, we walked over to Tokyo Station to see the illumination up close.
We joined the mass crush of people in Tokyo Station and wandered around a bit. Then we headed to Ginza 銀座, the upscale shopping district, to see the Christmas illumination of the high-end stores. Our tour included the famous Mikimoto Pearl Christmas tree. I heard rumours that 2014 was supposed to be the last year for the famous Christmas tree – anyone know anything else about that?
Thanks as always for reading!
What is your favorite thing about Christmas in Japan? Are there famous Christmas traditions in your home country? Does your family have interesting or unusual traditions?