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.
Disney’s Cinderella Illumination at Yokohama’s Landmark Tower