Christmas in Japan – メリークリスマス

Ho Ho Ho メリークリスマス!

Estimated less than 1% of Japanese people are practicing Christians. This doesn’t seem to in anyway stop the party hardy in Japan. Because it’s not a Japanese National Holiday, people will work and go to school on Christmas Day. Bummer eh? Rather this holiday is all about the Gs. Yeah, that’s $ Gs and not G strings. 🙂 Okay okay, I take it back. hehe It may also be fun to know that Japanese people celebrate Christmas normally on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day.

Common occurrences in Japan are Christmas trees and now more popularly lights on houses. Often parents will give presents to their kids as Santa. Generally though when the kids understand there is no such thing as Santa, the gift giving like that stops sometimes. I’ve only read a few things concerning a Buddhist monk called Hotei-osho who acts like Santa Claus. I’m not sure how accurate that is, so feel free to correct me. I guess Hotei-osho is just not as popular since I have only found a few sources about him. 😛

A lot of Japanese people view Christmas as a magical time.  A magical time for Romance! So if you’re into the present giving, you’re covered, and if you’re into the “Romance” you’re covered too. It’s common for hotels and restaurants to be booked out with reservations on days like this because everyone wants their special Christmas dream of love to be reciprocated.

Of course, just like in America, Christmas lights are very popular. You can go to all the major cities to see the beautiful lights. The picture above is from The Shinjuku Southern Terrace in 2008, JR Shinjuku Station, Tokyo. This is just one of many places in Tokyo alone that you can go and view the lights. About.com has a lot of information for holiday lights if you search for “christmas in japan” in their search engine and click on the links for pictures of holiday lights. It’ll also tell you what time to go view them, in case you’re in Japan.

It wouldn’t be a Christmas Eve in Japan if you were chowing on some Chicken. It seems that KFC decided to promote Christmas Chicken dinners to Japanese people, making a few of them believe that Americans eat chicken rather than the traditional turkey or ham. That’s okay Japan, we love ya!

Another thing that Japan has done to make Christmas more their own is the wonderful and great Christmas Cakes. Average Japanese Christmas cakes are round sponge cakes with whipped cream and fruit toppings. A lot of times more fancy cakes can have little plaques and sparklers, like the picture.

If you’re a big anime fan, you’ve no doubt seen a lot of these points covered in them. Often those big breasted lovely women are dressed scantily in Santa’s clothing and are sporting lovely cakes in their hands or perhaps sake even. Everyone loves an excuse to party it seems regardless of where they’re from.

But before you go thinking that’s all there is to a Christmas in Japan, there is yet another specific tradition out there now in Japan that just happens to coincide with Christmas in timing and shouldn’t be confused with Christmas gift giving itself. Its called oseibo. They’re end of the year gifts that express gratitude to your co-workers, bosses, relatives, teachers, friends, and so forth and so on.

People can give Popular items such as ham, cooking oil, gift certificates, beer, canned food, coffee, seasonings, seaweed, seafood, and fruits ranging from roughly 3,000 yen to about 20,000 yen. The more you want to express your gratitude, the more expensive your gift should be; at least that’s the impression I get from reading about this sort of thing.

So when did it begin? Well back in the day when the first European missionaries visited Japan before the Meiji Restoration in 1552, things like Christianity and such were introduced. It didn’t catch on until recent years when lots of foreigners started immigrating into Japan. The reason is because the Baukufu, during the Edo period, didn’t want anything Christian around. So during the 1900’s, Meiji period, it was reintroduced and started to catch on. In the Taisho period, more children orientated films and books began to show Christmas themes. It was in 1928 during the Showa period that the newspapers reported Christmas as becoming an annual event.

Wiki states:

The first recorded Christmas in Japan was celebrated with a Mass held by Jesuit missionaries in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1552, although some believe that unrecorded celebrations were held prior to this date, starting in 1549 when Saint Francis Xavier arrived in Japan to begin missionary work. Starting with the expulsion of missionaries in 1587, Christianity was banned throughout Japan beginning in 1612, a few years into the Edo Period, and the public practice of Christmas subsequently ceased. However, a small enclave of Japanese Christians, known as Kakure Kirishitan (“hidden Christians”), continued to practice underground over the next 250 years, and Christianity along with Christmas practices reemerged at the beginning of the Meiji period. Influenced by American customs, Christmas parties were held and presents were exchanged. The practice slowly spread in major cities, but its proximity to the New Year‘s celebrations makes it a smaller focus of attention. During World War II, all celebrations and customs, especially those from America, were suppressed. From the 1960s, with the aid of a rapidly expanding economy, and influenced by American TV dramas, Christmas became popular, but mostly not as a religious occasion. For many Japanese, celebrating Christmas is similar to participating in a matsuri, where participants often do not consider which kami is being celebrated, but believe that the celebration is a tribute nevertheless. From the 1970s onwards, many songs and TV drama series presented Christmas from a lover’s point of view, for example ‘Last Christmas‘ by Exile.

For those who’re practicing the true religious event, they like to perform songs, dances, and plays. For them, there is a lot more to the holiday, just like in America. Hey, I know not everyone celebrating here believes in Christianity, so it doesn’t shock me that Japan is similar, or more so less religious about it.

Well I hope that everyone has had a wonderful Christmas and all that good stuff. My family and I have had a lot of fun this year, and we’re very grateful. I also got a few JP study tools from Santa myself, which makes this kitty purrfectly happy.

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  • Read More or Die! 2011

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