The History Of Christmas In Japan
Japanese People in Japan didn’t always celebrate Christmas as it was not a predominantly Christian country, and arguably still isn’t. When Christianity did come to Japan in the 1500s, Christmas was celebrated, but only for a short time.
Celebrating Christmas or practicing Christianity was banned in Japan shortly after it was introduced.
When Christmas could be celebrated again, it was mainly celebrated as a commercial holiday, and its Christian significance was pretty much ignored.
Instead, people in Japan will exchange presents and spend time with family, sharing a meal and enjoying each other’s company, similar to how other countries now enjoy the holiday.
How Christmas Is Celebrated In Japan Today
Most family gatherings or celebrations will occur on Christmas Eve rather than on Christmas day. Neither day is a public holiday in Japan, so people usually have to work or go to school depending on the time of the week each day falls.
As such, people will get together on Christmas Eve and end the night early to get ready for their responsibilities for the next day.
Christmas day tends to be much more low-key, with some immediate families or friends coming together for gift exchanges and possibly to go out to dinner. Since businesses are open on Christmas, people will often go out, perhaps visiting a Christmas market or a lighting display in their area.
Every country seems to have fairly widespread traditions celebrated during the Christmas season, either on Christmas Eve or Christmas day.
Japan is no exception, and like many other countries and cultures, some of the Christmas tradition centers around food.
Ordering Food In Japan For The Holidays
When it comes to ordering food for Christmas, especially for Christmas Eve dinner, orders need to go in quickly since many of the popular food spots will sell out fast.
Restaurants of all kinds will often have special menus and seasonal dishes based on what’s traditionally enjoyed during the holidays in Japan. Still, they will only be able to produce so much.
Promotional prices often only stay until Christmas Eve, so don’t be surprised if many promotions or specials are no longer available should you try to order food or eat out on Christmas Day.
That said, some restaurants might have some special Christmas Day promotions since so many people will go out for dinner that day.
Traditional Japanese Christmas Food
There’s quite a variation in what’s enjoyed for Christmas dinner in Japan. Unlike in Western countries, which typically enjoy the typical turkey, potatoes, vegetable dishes, and casseroles, traditional Japanese Christmas food is quite diverse.
It’s not as customary in Japan for the entire family to get together for an elaborate sit down meal. While the family gathering might be large, mealtime is more about convenience.
Some families will pick a restaurant that offers all the fixings they want for their Christmas meal, from the main course to dessert, and place an order ahead of time so they can simply pick up their meal and bring it home.
The same is true of making reservations should a family want to eat out instead of staying at home.
Kentucky Fried Chicken
One of the most beloved Christmas meals in Japan is Kentucky Fried Chicken. A phrase you might hear over the Christmas holiday if you’re in Japan is kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii, or “Kentucky for Christmas.”
Colonel Sanders and his famous recipe have been a huge hit in Japan since the first restaurant opened.
This tradition was made popular after Takeshi Okawara, who happened to be the manager of the first KFC in Japan, decided to promote a party bucket of fried chicken as a special for Christmas.
With fried chicken being popular in Japan and turkey being hard to come by, it made perfect sense and became an instant hit.
Christmas Eve will have many KFC locations in Japan completely selling out of fried chicken, and people will spend a long time in line waiting to pick up their Kentucky for Christmas.
Japanese Christmas Cake
A Japanese Christmas cake is essentially a strawberry cake, often decorated with white icing and strawberries on top.
This cake has been enjoyed in Japan since the early 1900s when a cake shop called Fujiya started selling this particular type of cake around the holidays.
The cake consists of a round sponge cake, usually made with at least a couple of layers, with creamy icing and strawberry filling between the layers of cake.
Apart from strawberries on top, many cakes will have Christmas decorations on top, like glitter bows or holly, to tie in the holiday season.
Chanmery is actually a carbonated beverage whose name is derived from the combination of the words champagne and merry.
Despite the name, this carbonated drink doesn’t actually have any alcohol in it, so it can be enjoyed by everyone.
These drinks are packaged in little champagne-style bottles with a cork that can be popped and are available in sweet, fruity flavors.
It’s common for Japanese families to keep things simple during the holidays, ordering pizza to share on Christmas Eve or Christmas day.
Since most people enjoy pizza and it can very easily feed a large crowd, it makes for an easy holiday dinner that doesn’t require a lot of cleanup.
In addition to serving unique seasonal pizzas, pizza places in Japan will also make chicken dishes since it’s such a popular menu item for a Japanese Christmas.
Many pizza chains and shops in Japan will also put together their own special promotions for the holidays in order to entice folks to pick up a pie or two for their own festivities.
There have been some interesting festive pizza creations that have garnered popularity in Japan, with toppings such as roast chicken, brie cheese, or roast beef.
Fares Inspired By German Christmas Markets
Japan has become quite a fan of German markets, and several spots in the country have been inspired by all that these markets have to offer around Christmas.
If you spend time in Japan around the holiday season, you’ll likely stumble upon space with wooden German-style market stalls set up, offering a bunch of German dishes.
Some of the dishes enjoyed at these markets included mulled wine, chimney cakes, stollen, and sausages. You might also find some German markets with beer, French fries, and soft pretzels.
Perhaps the most famous market of this kind in Japan is the Tokyo Christmas Market, held in Hibiya Park every year. Roppongi Christmas Market is another that has German-inspired fares as well.
It can get pretty cold in the pockets of Japan during the holidays, so a nice warm cream stew that sits on the bones is another popular dish.
This stew consists of a white, creamy broth, with either chicken or pork and various vegetables.
Sweets are enjoyed in the holiday season in Japan just as much as they are everywhere else. Wagashi is one such dessert that is not only beautiful but delicious as well.
Most wagashi will be made with typical Japanese flavors like green tea or red bean paste and will be molded into standard Christmas shapes like Santa Claus or snowmen.
Christmas Time In Japan
Christmas in Japan isn’t really a national holiday, and hearing merry Christmas might be occasionally heard. Christmas trees are often on display in public areas and lighting displays.
The United States has had a great influence on modern Japanese culture since world war II.
The Christmas period and the new year holidays are often filled with a company Christmas party, and western holiday traditions have become part of the events in Japan.
Western culture has definitely changed the land of the rising sun, and the religious holiday has become a great time for retail businesses as they often have the highest sales of the year.
Japanese children are just as excited about the official holiday and will visit Christmas lights with their parents, and you can see men dressed in a Santa outfit in many Japanese department stores.
The KFC Christmas dinner has become traditional Christmas food in Japan, and a bucket of KFC chicken is a go-to dinner for most Japanese customers this time of year.
The fast-food chain has over 1100 locations across Japan, and a party barrel and side dishes, potato salad, will be part of many Christmas parties as a nationwide tradition in Japan.
Convenience stores in Japan will sell traditional Christmas cake, and strawberry shortcake is a common favorite.
Roast turkey is a common Christmas meal in the west. Still, the popular American fast food restaurant has forever changed the concept of Christmas in Japan. Long lines are often seen outside of KFC restaurants to fill the first Christmas bucket orders for its most popular meal.