I am so excited to have Molly on the blog today to talk about Christmas in Japan! My very first Christmas as a wee one was spent on a military base in the northern part of Japan. Of course, I don’t remember it at all but I’ve heard stories from my parents about how much fun it was. This base is under joint operation of an air combat unit of the US Air Force and the aviation branch of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, so American and Japanese military servicemen and their families would combine traditions and celebrate together for the entire month (SO MANY PARTIES!). I so wish I had been old enough to remember! Molly’s experiences are much different from what my parents have told me about, so this was a very fun post to read about.
Hello! This is Molly! I blog as River at Cherry Blossoms & Maple Syrup and tweet as @innocencewalker on twitter. Many of you (most of you?) know that I used to live in Japan. And if you didn’t know, then I shall tell you more! I moved to Japan in 2007 to go to school in Tokyo for a year. After that I got a job and started teaching English in Saitama (an hour north of Tokyo) in 2008. I lived in Saitama for three years before getting married and moving back to Tokyo. That lasted for six months because my husband’s job transferred him up north to Tokai-mura where we then lived for two years before moving to the USA. I currently reside in Boston, MA. WHEW.
I’ve been invited to That Artsy Reader Girl to talk about Christmas in Japan! Yes Japanese people celebrate Christmas. I’ve found that a lot of Westerners are surprised by his because Japan isn’t really a Christian nation. But Japanese people do celebrate in their own way and they’ve kinda modified some of the Westerner traditions to fit the way they want to celebrate.
In Japan the Big Family Holiday is New Year. So imagine the way we celebrate Christmas; family time, big meal, religious ceremony (for some of us)… that’s Japanese New Year. Christmas in Japan actually kinda mirrors New Years Eve in the USA: dating! parties! drinking! The Christmas (and winter) season in Japan is very enjoyable… if you know what you’re going into. My first Christmas in Japan was depressing. I was in school, living with a host family, far away from my own family. My host family bought a Christmas cake and… that was it. I don’t even think anyone wished me a Merry Christmas. Major sigh.
Christmas cake you ask? Wtf is that? Not cookies? No! Let me first tell you about the weird Japanese Christmas food… cake and KFC. Yes. Cake and fried chicken.
In Japan in like the 1970’s, KFC ran a marketing campaign that basically convinced Japanese people that KFC was THE food to eat for Christmas… and it stuck. Turkey (a popular Western holiday dish… which is weird for me as an American cuz turkey is for Thanksgiving and ham is for Christmas (in my family)… but idk) isn’t common in Japan (you can strangely get it at Tokyo Disney Sea) so I guess chicken it was! Around the beginning of December KFC starts to hand out order forms and you’re encouraged to make your Christmas dinner order now!
Christmas cake is also a popular food item for Christmas. I remember when I taught English to children, they were always very excited to make the cake on or around Christmas eve. Oddly enough Christmas is Japan is celebrated on Christmas eve. Families get their KFC (or fried chicken alternative from the supermarket), moms and kids decorate the cake (or buy one if they’re too lazy/ not handy with a mixer) and they gather around the table and eat and drink and be merry. Santa comes for the children, usually leaving one gift on their bedside. And then on Christmas morning… the streets are cleared of all decorations and it’s like nothing ever happened.
Now, Christmas is two-fold in Japan. It’s celebrated with young children and their parents with KFC, cake, and merriment around the kitchen table. But what about teens? Young adults? Young working professionals? Well they go out on dates. Christmas eve is the most popular date night of the year. Think of it as a mix of NYE and Valentine ’s Day. Love hotels are booked all… night… long… Gifts are exchanged, feelings are confessed, and if you don’t have a date you’re basically a loser. (For real, I once didn’t have a date and my gay friends let me crash theirs so I didn’t reach total loser status). Groups of friends get together and have parties (with cake and chicken).
After meeting my husband (then boyfriend) and dating for a bit before hitting Christmas I had the fun idea of mixing up the two versions of Christmas I’ve come to know and love. I made a cake (it as chocolate) and bought some chicken from the store (later while living in Tokai we discovered that we could get smoked turkey legs on Christmas eve ONLY and that became a favorite) and I put up a small tree in the apartment. My mother made us both our own stockings and I taught him the art of stocking stuffers. To this day we celebrate this mix. We don’t really do the big gift exchange, but stocking stuffers are a must!
One thing Japan does INCREDIBLY well is decorate for Christmas! It’s all professionally done so it’s large displays for the public and not just some twinkle lights strung up outside the office by some intern. I miss the Japanese illuminations (they don’t call them Christmas lights) so much. I used to go around to all of the different displays in Tokyo and take photos I’ve never seen such elaborate displays! They usually go up around the beginning of December and then are promptly taken down Christmas morning.
So what do you think about Christmas in Japan? Sound like something you’d like to try? Sound totally bizarre? I used to get SO annoyed about how “wrong” some of the things were, but now… I kinda miss it…