Another name for the month of December is "Shiwasu". Before the New Year, there was the custom in old Japan of mourning the spirits of ancestors, when Buddhist priests were busy celebrating rites.
Many people probably think of Christmas when they think of December. It has become a major winter event celebrated around the world, and Japan is no exception. However, Christmas in Japan has been rearranged and developed in its own way.
This article introduces the Japanese way of spending Christmas.
How Christmas took root in Japan
The first Christmas-like event was held in Japan in the 16th century. It is said that the first mass was held in Suo Province (present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture) for the Feast of the Advent by the missionary Cosme de Torres, who came to Japan with the Jesuit Francis Xavier.
However, because of the subsequent prohibition of Christianity in Japan, Christmas could not be celebrated for a long period of time.
When the ban on Christianity was lifted in the Meiji period (1868-1912), Christmas gradually became recognized by the general public. When World War II broke out, Christmas’celebration was temporarily restrained, but after the war, Christmas became fully established as an annual event for the Japanese people.
Since few people in Japan are Christian, the religious significance of Christmas is almost nonexistent, and it is simply a fun event. This can be said to be a manifestation of the Japanese disposition to broadly accept elements coming from different cultures, which is unique to the Japanese.
How to Spend Christmas in Japan
Christmas culture in Japan differs from that of Christian countries in many respects. Here are some of the unique ways to spend Christmas in Japan.
Prioritizing dates with loved ones over family
Generally, Christmas is a time for family gatherings. However, in Japan, since most people spend New Year's with their families, Christmas is perceived as a day to spend with one's sweetheart; the two of them enjoy a romantic date, looking at illuminations or having dinner together at a restaurant.
Christmas Eve is more exciting than Christmas Day
Christmas Eve, December 24, is considered to be a more exciting day than Christmas Day, so that dates and parties are often held on Christmas Eve. The reason for this could be largely due to the influence of dramas and music popular in the 1980s.
Eating fried chicken
While the standard Christmas dinner in some Christian countries is turkey, in Japan turkey is hard to come by, so the custom is to eat chicken. You may be surprised to hear that there are long lines at fast food restaurants for fried chicken.
Eating a decorated cake with strawberries on top for dessert is also a uniquely Japanese custom. Every Christmas, a variety of elaborate Christmas cakes line store shelves.
Placing presents under the pillow
The way Christmas presents are given to children is also unusual in Japan. Instead of placing gifts together under the Christmas tree, in Japan gifts are placed under children's pillows after they have gone to bed. Many families tell their children that Santa Claus has delivered presents.
Christmas decorations are taken down all together after December 25
In Japan, Christmas decorations are all taken down after December 25. This is because they have to prepare for New Year's, which comes right after Christmas. After one night, the Christmas mood completely disappears, and Christmas trees are replaced by New Year's kadomatsu. This quick transition may be unique to Japan.
Stories related to the four seasons
- January, A Harmonious Family Moment
- February, Demons Out! Fortune In!
- March, Hina Festival for Girls
- April, Cherry blossoms in full bloom
- May, Carp streamers swimming in the sky
- June, Rain falls when plum fruits are ripening
- July, Lovers Meeting across the Milky way on Tanabata
- August, Obon to welcome ancestors back home
- September, Can you see the moon rabbit?
- October, When 8 million deities gather at Izumo Taisha
- November, Shichi-Go-San Festival to celebrate kids' growth
- December, Japanese way of spending Christmas