Christmas in Japan - How do the Japanese celebrate Kurisumasu?

Since Japan is a country with only 1% of Christians, do they celebrate Christmas? How do the Japanese celebrate this holiday? In this article, we’ll talk about kurisumasu [クリスマス] or Christmas in Japan.

Do the Japanese celebrate Christmas?

Japan is a country where most people are Buddhists and Shintoists with very few Christians. In Japan, due to the commercial influence, Christmas has no space among the Japanese, even though Christmas is not considered a National Holiday.

Some Japanese people exchange gifts, eat strawberry cream cakes, and KFC fried chicken. They go out with friends and have a small party organized in a karaoke or another location. In Japan the holiday is more important on the 24th than on the 25th and has little religious significance.

From November the decorations fill the streets, some houses also get in the mood. Shops are preparing to sell their sweets, cakes, clothes, birds and themed decorations. Despite this, the 25th is not a holiday and people work normally.

Christmas in japan - how do the japanese celebrate kurisumasu?

Christmas is a Valentine’s Day

In Japan for many people Christmas is not a holiday to spend with the family, but with the loved one. For singles it is really crucial to have someone to spend Christmas Eve. The red decorations, arouse passion, the climate and the snow makes the evening even more beautiful and romantic.

Unlike the West, during the girlfriend days in Japan, the Japanese do not exchange gifts but chocolates. Christmas is the opportunity for the Japanese to give gifts to their beloved. This custom has existed since 1930.

There is an anime that shows this holiday very well and that special couple night, it’s called Amagami SS and was based on a Novel of the same name. There are several other anime that show that special date and how the characters react to it.

Christmas in japan - how do the japanese celebrate kurisumasu?

Oseibo - Gift Exchange

The exchange of gifts at the end of the year in Japan is not something original for Christmas. O oseibo represents a typical Japanese culture habit of giving gifts at the end of the year, in the Edo period. Gifts are sent between December 20th to 28th and can be mistaken for the exchange of Christmas gifts.

The act of giving gifts at the end of the year had the objective of thanking the support and assistance of employees, of people of a higher hierarchical level and extended to relatives, teachers and friends. A different tradition of giving gifts to your loved one.

With the advent of Christmas, these gift exchanges were mixed, but it can be said that oseibo has a different conception, very particular to Japanese culture. We recommend reading our article on meaning of those present in Japan.

Christmas in japan - how do the japanese celebrate kurisumasu?

Christmas story in Japan

Christmas was first recorded in Japan through a mass held by Jesuit missionaries at Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1552. Some believe that Christmas celebrations took place before that date.

But Christianity was banned across Japan in 1612. During the ban on Christianity in Japan, some Dutch and Japanese from Nagasaki used the Dutch winter festival as a way to celebrate Christmas on the sly.

In 1914 a Christmas illustration was published in Kodomonotomo, a children's magazine published by Motoko Hanin and Yoshizaku Hanin. During the Taisho Period many other children's or women's magazines featured many illustrations related to Christmas.

Christmas in japan - how do the japanese celebrate kurisumasu?

The birthday and holiday of two emperors coincided to fall on December 25th, which greatly boosted the growth of Christmas in Japan, especially after these dates were changed. Until 1930 more than 7000 establishments entered the Christmas atmosphere.

On July 20, 1948, Emperor Taisho's birthday was excluded from the holiday calendar and Christmas was established as an annual event. Emperor Akihito agreed to celebrate his birthday a few years back on December 23rd, driving even more.

In the 1960s, with the booming economy, and the influence of American TV, Christmas became popular. Factors such as songs and TV series, the birthday of Emperor Akihito (the 23rd holiday), and the KFC advertising campaign to sell chickens, helped Christmas to become popular with the Japanese.

In Japan, Christmas is not a Christian festival, but a commercial holiday and a Valentine's Day. This helps us to conclude that although the Japanese are not Christians, they are very open to learning new beliefs.

Christmas in japan - how do the japanese celebrate kurisumasu?

Christmas Vocabulary - How to say Merry Christmas in Japanese?

Christmas in Japanese is called Kurisumasu (クリスマス), and Santa Claus in Japanese is Santa (サンタ) sometimes called santa-chan. Now let's see some other Japanese words related to Christmas. I hope you like this Christmas vocabulary!

There are several ways to speak Merry Christmas or Merry Cristmas in Japanese. Some are adaptations of English, it is common to use abbreviations and other interesting Christmas expressions. The two main ways of saying are:

  • Merii Kurisumasu [メリークリスマス] - Merry Christmas;
  • Meri Kuri [メリクリ] - Japanese abbreviation;

We have other words like Kurisumasu Ibu [クリスマス・イブ] which means “Christmas Eve” which in Japan is like a Valentine's Day where couples go on dates and stay in hotels. Christmas day is called Kurisumasu dee [[リスマスデー].

  • Kurisumasu Keeki [クリスマス・ケーキ] - Christmas cake;
  • Kurisumasu Tsurii [クリスマスツリー] - Christmas tree;
  • Kurisumasu Irumineeshon [クリスマスイルミネーション] - Christmas lighting;
  • Santa Kurosu [サンタクロース] - Santa Claus;
  • Kurisumasu Kyaroru [クリスマスキャロル] - Christmas carol;

In Japan during Christmas it is common to consume fried chicken or karaageso the words bored chikin [フライドチキン], kurisumasu chikin [クリスマスチキン] e karaage [唐揚げ] are mentioned a lot in the period. All thanks to KFC's Christmas marketing.

Other related words are:

  • Yuki [雪] - Snow;
  • Shichimenchō [七面鳥] - Peru;
  • Tonekai [トナカイ] - Rena;
  • Hokkyoku [北極] - North Pole;
  • Purezento [プレゼント] - Present;
  • Suzu [鈴] - Bell;
  • Yuki no kesshou [雪の結晶] - Snowflakes;
  • Danro [暖炉] - Fireplace;
  • Shoushoku [装飾] - Decoration;
  • Yukidaruma [雪だるま] - Snowman;
  • Akahana no tonekai [赤鼻のトナカイ] - Rudolpho, the Red-Nosed Reindeer;
  • Hiiragi [ヒイラギ] - Holly;
  • Jinjābureddo hausu [ジンジャーブレッド・ハウス] - Gingerbread house;
  • Kyandi Kein [キャンディケイン] - Sweet cane;
  • Yuki [雪] - Snow;
  • Shichimenchō [七面鳥] - Peru;
  • Tonekai [トナカイ] - Rena;
  • Hokkyoku [北極] - North Pole;
  • Purezento [プレゼント] - Present;
  • Suzu [鈴] - Bell;
  • Yuki no kesshou [雪の結晶] - Snowflakes;
  • Danro [暖炉] - Fireplace;
  • Shoushoku [装飾] - Decoration;
  • Yukidaruma [雪だるま] - Snowman;
  • Akahana no tonekai [赤鼻のトナカイ] - Rudolpho, the Red-Nosed Reindeer;
  • Hiiragi [ヒイラギ] - Holly;
  • Jinjābureddo hausu [ジンジャーブレッド・ハウス] - Gingerbread house;
  • Kyandi Kein [キャンディケイン] - Sweet cane;
  • Iesu [イエス] - Jesus;
  • Tenshi [天使] - Angels;
  • Hoshi [星] - Star;
  • Magusaoke [まぐさ桶] - manger;
  • Naya [納屋] - Stable;

Christmas lighting in Japan

Christmas lighting is quite popular in Japan, so much so that it happens months before December, there are specific dates for the presentation of the lights even before Christmas. I was in November in Japan and already had lighting in Gunma.

 In Japan this lighting is called Irumineeshon [イルミネーション] or also Denshoku [電飾]. Despite being widely seen during Christmas, the year-end illuminations are nothing more than tourist attractions in squares, parks and other places.

The origin of illuminations in the world came from the 16th century. In Japan, illuminations began on April 30, 1900 in a ship-watching ceremony off the coast of Kobe, where each ship emitted light to illuminate the sea surface creating a beautiful view.

In the Meiji era, great lighting was also performed at the business fair in Osaka and Tokyo. In Japan, Meiji-ya, which deals with imported products, made a major inroad into Ginza during the Meiji era.

Christmas in japan - how do the japanese celebrate kurisumasu?

Japan Christmas Lighting Events

Below we will leave a list of the most popular lighting events and their start date. Remembering that some may last until the end of January or longer. We will leave the name of the event in Japanese to facilitate your Google search.

Responsive Table: Roll the table sideways with your finger >>
ProvinceCityEvent NameStart date 
HokkaidoSapporoさっぽろホワイトイルミネーションMid-November
MiyagiSendaiSENDAI 光のページェントDecember 12
FukushimaKoriyama K ッグツリーページェント・フェスタ in KORIYAMAEnd of November
IbarakiTsukuba つくば光の森End of November
TokyoShibuya表参道イルミネーションBeginning of December
NiigataMinato-kuNIIGATA 光のページェントMid December
GifuNiigata長良川イルミネーションMid December
OsakaGifuOSAKA 光のルネサンスMid December
OsakaOsaka御堂筋イルミネーションMid December
HyogoOsaka神戸ルミナリエBeginning of December
HyogoKobe 神戸ライトメッセージMid-November
HyogoKobe 光の街・洲本At the end of November
NaraSumoto 飛鳥光の回廊Around September
WakayamaAsuka Village白砂のプロムナードMid-November
HiroshimaShirahamaひろしまドリミネーションMid-November
KagawaHiroshima高松冬のまつりBeginning of December
NagasakiTakamatsu きらきらフェスティバルMid-November

Videos about Christmas in Japan

Although I am a Christian in my PERSONAL opinion, Christmas is just a commercial holiday with strange and uncertain origins, but the way that Japanese people look at Christmas I find very interesting, red perfectly matches romance.

I still have doubts about understanding how Christmas in Japan became a Valentine's Day… Is that you? What did you find interesting about Japanese Christmas? If you think I missed something important, I await your comment.

To finish, let's leave some videos about Christmas in Japan:

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