Celebrating Christmas in Japan

The holiday season gives us a chance to be thankful for whatever blessings we have and to celebrate with family and friends. No matter what part of the world we are from or how we choose to celebrate, the spirit of the season is always a joyous occasion.

The story of Christmas in Japan  began when Christianity was introduced to the country and the very first Christmas service was held in 1552. Today, Christmas is much anticipated. Here are some things to expect.

5288104560_c585d33b13_zOh glorious Christmas cake!

Christmas in Japan wouldn’t be complete without a Christmas cake. The often elaborately decorated sponge cake is almost too pretty to eat. It’s frosted with delicious butter cream or whipped cream and usually decorated with fresh fruits and chocolate. Christmas cakes were introduced in 1910 and were just simple plum cakes decorated with fondant and silver balls. Christmas cakes are now the centerpiece of a Japanese Christmas feast.

Christmas cake from the Morinaka Kobe Roll Cake Factory. | Bert Kimura

333835380_2ebf3a5f9a_zKentucky Fried Chicken scores in Japan

Whoever thought KFC would ever be a traditional Christmas dish? KFC in Japan is the epitome of a Christmas meal. When a group of foreigners could not find turkey in Japan, they opted to have fried chicken instead. KFC saw this as a great marketing opportunity and launched their first Christmas meal in 1974. The fast food chain now gets Christmas orders months in advance.

KFC store in Japan during Christmas. | Fugu Tabetai

Valentines in December

In Japan, Christmas is more of a time to spread the joy of the season rather than a religious celebration. In fact, Christmas in Japan is considered a romantic occasion, much like Valentine’s Day, where couples spend the evenings together strolling along streets lit with beautiful Christmas lights. Couples have a romantic meal and then exchange gifts.

15624841690_fa05778007_zBeethoven’s Ninth Symphony as a Christmas carol

Japan has adopted many of the Western Christmas carols: Silent Night, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful; and why not add Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to the list?  The famous composition is referred to as Daiku or Great Nine in Japan. Many Japanese concert theaters feature this classic as part of their Christmas repertoire.

Tokyo Midtown Christmas lights. | Dick Thomas Johnson

No matter how the holiday season is spent all around the world, it’s important not to forget the true essence of the holiday spirit: love. No wonder it’s like Valentine’s in December.

Happy Holidays, everyone!