Another name for the month of December is "Shiwasu". Before the New Year, it was customary in ancient Japan to mourn the spirits of the ancestors when Buddhist priests were busy performing rituals.
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 transformed and developed in its own way.
This article introduces the Japanese way of celebrating Christmas.
How Christmas came to Japan
The first Christmas-like event in Japan took place in the 16th century. It is said that the first Advent Mass was held in Suo Province (present-day Yamaguchi Prefecture) by the missionary Cosme de Torres, who came to Japan with the Jesuit Francis Xavier.
However, due to the subsequent ban on 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 was gradually recognized by the general public. When World War II broke out, the celebration of Christmes was temporarily curtailed, but after the war, Christmas became fully established as an annual event for the Japanese people.
Since few people in Japan are Christians, the religious significance of Christmas is almost nonexistent, and it is simply a fun event. This can be seen as a manifestation of the Japanese tendency to broadly accept elements coming from other cultures, which is unique to the Japanese.
How to celebrate Christmas in Japan
Christmas culture in Japan differs in many ways from that of Christian countries. Here are some of the unique ways to spend Christmas in Japan.
Prioritize time with loved ones over family
In general, Christmas is a time for family gatherings. However, since most people in Japan spend New Year's with their families, Christmas is perceived as a day to spend with your sweetheart; the two of you enjoy a romantic date, watching the holiday lights, 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 may 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 in Japan, 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.
Putting presents under the pillow
The way Christmas presents are given to children is also unusual in Japan. Instead of putting presents together under the Christmas tree, presents are placed under children's pillows after they go to bed. Many families tell their children that Santa Claus delivered the presents.
Christmas decorations all taken down after December 25
In Japan, all Christmas decorations are taken down after December 25th. This is because they have to prepare for New Year's, which comes right after Christmas. After one night, the Christmas spirit completely disappears, and Christmas trees are replaced by New Year's kadomatsu. This rapid 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