Christmas in Western countries is often a spectacle to behold. City streets are adorned with sparkling lights, holiday dishes are served in abundance, and every shop you enter has Christmas songs playing from the speakers. In Japan however, Christmas is not so over the top. While there are lights, themed menus and holiday hymns aplenty, the overall ambiance is much more subdued.
Whereas Christmas in the West traditionally revolves around the entire family, in Japan—where the New Year’s holiday fills that role—Christmas has been adopted as a more romantic holiday. Targeted towards couples (not unlike a winter version of Valentine’s Day), Christmas in Japan serves to brighten the days of partners across the country, offering plenty of festivities and good cheer to help you get in the spirit of the season. If you’re not going to be returning home this winter, make the most of Christmas in Japan with your special someone!
How is Christmas Celebrated in Japan?
First and foremost, Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan. Hailing from the UK, I have gotten very accustomed to my three days off from work around this time. Unlike the UK however, Japan is not a Christian country and therefore, Christmas was not celebrated at all until the holiday was imported from the West. Because of this, many Japanese residents simply get up and go to work as if it were any other day.
That isn’t to say that Christmas is not a big deal in Japan in the present day, and it has been for some time now. Whereas Christmas is reserved for one’s family in the UK, Christmas in Japan is catered specifically towards couples.
I have to admit that I’m quite partial to the Christmas traditions as we celebrated them back home. My checklist for an ideal holiday would look something like:
- ・Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
However, if I am to drag myself away from my warm duvet and third cup of eggnog, what exactly do I have to look forward to spending Christmas in Japan with a partner?
While it is easy to revel in the majesty of Japan’s skylines and walkways all year round, during Christmas especially, entire cities are transformed into luminous winter wonderlands. Trees are adorned with flashing lights of varying colors, allowing residents to revel in their beauty as they stroll up and down the streets.
What could be more romantic than an evening walk with your partner, under the glitter of meticulously decorated holiday lights?
There are several locations famous for illumination to be found all across Japan during this holiday season. Some of the most popular are located in Roppongi and Omotesando in Tokyo. However; Osaka, Kobe, Nagano, and Nagasaki all host impressive displays of lights as well.
Eating Fried Chicken
I can see it now. As Christmas fast approaches, you start to question just what exactly you will be eating for Christmas dinner. Turkey is often my choice of meat but, should you be in the mood for a taste of what Japan’s traditions have in store for a holiday banquet – look no further than your local fried chicken restaurant!
The tradition of fried chicken at Christmas began due to, in part, the lack of any other Christmas traditions in the country. A certain prominent fast food chain originally tried to fill this void through a marketing campaign – substituting in their fried chicken for a lack of turkey.
Since its boom, nowadays, many establishments go so far as to offer pre-bookings for their fried chicken meals. If you plan to set off Christmas Eve in hopes of finding a restaurant with empty seats, you might find yourself out of luck. Get in early and be sure to not miss out!
Alternatively, embracing the season at home can be just as fun by preparing, cooking, and ultimately eating a many number of other chicken dishes with your partner! Several department stores throughout Japan offer selections of both roast or rotisserie chicken to indulge in this Winter season that might be worth a try.
Come December in the West, it is difficult to enter into any building without seeing a slew of Christmas decorations, beautifying every space or empty patch of wallpaper they can find. Even in several of my old workspaces in England, adding at least a bauble or two to your work chair, was simply par for the course.
While several department stores and other establishments may decorate their interiors with a tree or somem lights during Christmas, you’re less likely to find a home or office slathered in decorations to the extent you may be used to (especially not the exteriors).
For a taste of home this year, why not head off with your partner to the nearest department store and make use of their plentiful stock of Christmas decorations? Purchasing a sizable tree is not too expensive, and there’s sure to be a host of colorful baubles, lights, and tinsel to choose from to accompany it.
Decorating a tree together is always a great bonding experience—or a recipe for disaster when your partner insists on putting Santa on the top of the tree because he’s cute, instead of the more traditional star. (Just kidding, of course—to each their own!)
Wherever you go in the world, Christmas is a time for two things: one, love of all kinds—be it familial, romantic, or simply respecting thy fellow person.
And two…spending lots of money!
Japan is no stranger to Christmas discounts, and they debut in abundance during the holiday season.
Renovate your love nest this Christmas with new furniture or a new wardrobe for both you and your partner at a considerably discounted price.
Not to mention, this is the perfect time to pick up that perfect present for your special someone!
Treat your partner to a romantic candlelit dinner at one of many restaurants that will surely be catering to the Christmas festivities with special holiday menus and courses prepared from seasonal ingredients.
While a traditional Western meal consisting of the usual suspects of turkey, pudding, and cranberry sauce may not be easily found, this is all the more incentive to try as many different restaurants as possible and expand your palate.
Each restaurant will usually have a course meal plan consisting of appetizers, a starter, a main course, and a dessert. As you might expect, many fine dining establishments will be booked well in advance, so be sure to reserve in a timely fashion to avoid getting shut out of your ideal dinner spot.
Every restaurant will have its own unique menu options, making Christmas a great time for couples looking to indulge in new culinary adventures.
Seeing as caroling isn’t very accessible to those living in the city, why not stretch those vocal muscles and sing some Christmas songs at your local karaoke joint?
Karaoke is such a huge part of Japanese culture that you would find it difficult to round a corner without seeing the neon sign of a karaoke parlor glowing in the distance.
Almost all karaoke venues in Japan offer selections in a variety of languages (English, Korean, Chinese, and many more) so rest assured that you can still belt out your favorite Christmas tunes just as you would back at home.
Rooms are secluded and often quite well soundproofed—though you’ll want to be sure to shut the door completely as to avoid hearing the full-throated artistic stylings of your neighbors. Serenading your partner is a tradition that needs to be given more love, and when better to start than on the holiday known for singing?
How Will You Be Spending Christmas in Japan With Your Partner This Year?
Christmas in Japan is an entirely different experience that may take some getting used to. Personally speaking, the notion that I would have to actually leave my bed on Christmas Day was a deterrent at first. However, if you have a partner and find yourself with some free time over the holidays, Japan has a great many experiences that will have the two of you fully embracing the spirit of the season.
Also, rest assured that if you have still yet to find that special someone, all of these activities can also be enjoyed with friends or coworkers.
In closing, we at Senpai Japan wish you a safe and merry Christmas this coming winter, and a joyous and happy New Year as well.