When we think of Christmas, we often look at our traditions; when it comes to Christmas, it can be centred around food. That being said, Turkey and all of the trimmings will be something we see on Christmas day. But for Japanese people, their Christmas tradition when it comes to food is a little different to what you might expect. Different countries have their different customs and traditions and I wanted to explore Christmas food in Japan as well as some of the things they may do. As the country isn’t a historically Christian country, the Japanese population is largely atheist. But some Christian holidays and traditions are still often celebrated in the country. Christmas is one of them.
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While there is a long-standing history of Christmas in Japan in terms of being celebrated and a time when it wasn’t allowed back in 1612, these days it is more traditionally a time for couples to spend quality time together. Quite different to the Western culture which centres Christmas around family. However, gifts are still exchanged and a Christmas dinner is enjoyed, just perhaps not quite what you might expect. So let’s explore Christmas in Japan.
Christmas food in Japan
Food is such a huge part of Christmas, and whether that is an annual Christmas party, family gatherings or or you look forward to the main meal of the day, it is often a huge part of the celebrations of the Christmas season. But what foods do they eat at Christmas time in Japan? Let’s look a little more closely at the food traditions in Japanese culture.
Traditions for Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve is often spent as a couple. It is a tradition to spend the evening on dates and couples use the day to spend time with each other and head out on romantic walks. It is quite similar to how we spend Valentine’s day in western countries. It is centred around couples time, romance, and generally being with one another. Couples will indulge in romantic dates, so expect restaurants to be booked up, or fancy meals to be prepared at home.
Food on Christmas day
Turkey is a huge aspect of a Christmas meal. However, turkey isn’t something that is readily available in Japan so their Christmas dinner is very different. Would you believe me if I said that Japanese people enjoy Kentucky fried chicken as their Christmas dinner? It might sound odd, but it is factually correct. The tradition started back in 1974 when fast-food chain KFC made a conscious effort to ramp up its Christmas sales. A businessman called Takeshi Okawara who managed the first huge KFC franchise in Japan told a little lie to help improve sales. He explained that roast chicken was a festive alternative to turkey. The campaign was such a success that KFC Japan has now become a tradition for Christmas day. It is so popular, that Japanese families have to place their orders as much as six weeks in advance. A bit like us ordering a turkey from the butcher but they are ordering a bucket of KFC chicken from Colonel Sanders!
Other foods that may be enjoyed in Japan during the festive season
One of the big show-stoppers on Christmas day is the Christmas cake, am I right? But while we may associate Christmas cake with a fruit cake which is a labour of love to make, it is quite different in Japan. You will find that that while they still indulge in a Christmas cake, Japanese Christmas cake is a sponge cake with a whipped cream filling and flavoursome frosting. It is one of the most looked forward to foods of the Christmas holiday.
If you are looking for some traditional Japanese Christmas food recipes then here are some popular ones in Japanese households...
Starters / Appetizers
Christmas traditions and customs in Japan
If you wanted to say Merry Christmas in Japanese then you would say “Meri Kurisumasu” and it is common to wish people a Merry Christmas when you see them. It is still a official holiday that couples and families celebrate. However, are there customs and traditions in Japan at Christmastime? There are a few. Here are some of them.
All of the Christmas lights
If we think we love a twinkly light at Christmas, in Japan Christmas decorations are all about the lights. Making sure everywhere is illuminated is a true tradition in Japan. The displays are simply breathtaking. Not just will people take the time to decorate their homes inside and outside with lights and Christmas trees but parks, malls, and along the streets get a makeover with beautiful twinkly lights. It is quite special. You will also find that famous landmarks are illuminated.
Who doesn’t love a Christmas market? In Japan, they enjoy Christmas markets and it would be something you would recognise as they are based on what we know and enjoy in Europe. The markets are also hosted by different embassies, so there really is a lot to explore and enjoy. You will get plenty of gifts here, and they are available to enjoy right through the Christmas period to the new year.
Gifts and Santa Claus
This brings me to gifts and whether the customs are similar or different in Japan. For us, gift-giving is a big part of Christmas and children also believe in Santa Claus. Japanese people love shopping and gift-giving is a huge part of the holiday season. They even have a specific time called “oseibo” where it is tradition to exchange gifts with co-workers. This would usually happen towards the new year. Santa is a thing in Japan as well, and while there may not be mountains of gifts for family and friends on December 25th, it is still traditional to receive gifts on Christmas morning.
Finally, in Toyoko, Disneyland hosts a huge Christmas parade and it is one of the most popular attractions to visit during the holiday season. While there is so much fun and activities for Japanese children and families to do, you will also spot a lot of couples enjoying time at Disney at this time. The celebration starts mid-November and runs right through to Christmas day. It is such a magical place to be for the Christmas Celebrations.
I hope this has made you more aware of the food and traditions experienced in Japan at Christmas.