Christmas in Japan - How do the Japanese celebrate?

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Although Christmas is not a traditional holiday in Japan, as only 1% of the Japanese population is Christian, the celebration of "Kurisumasu" (as it is known in Japanese) has become increasingly popular over the years.

In Japan, the date is marked by a mix of Western influences and unique Japanese traditions, resulting in a distinct celebration that reflects both the global spirit and the local character.

Do the Japanese celebrate Christmas?

Japan is a country where the majority of people are Buddhists and Shintoists with very few Christians. In Japan, due to commercial influence, Christmas has its place among the Japanese, even though Christmas is not considered a National Holiday.

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

From November on, the streets are filled with decorations, some houses also get into the spirit. The shops get ready to sell their sweets, cakes, clothes, birds, and themed decorations. However, the 25th is not a holiday and people work as usual.

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 family, but with a loved one. For singles, it is really crucial to have someone to spend Christmas Eve with. The red decorations symbolize passion, and the atmosphere and snow make the night even more beautiful and romantic.

Different from the West, during Valentine's Day in Japan, the Japanese do not exchange gifts but chocolates instead. Christmas is the opportunity for Japanese people to give gifts to their loved ones. This custom has been around since 1930.

There is an anime that portrays this holiday and this special night for couples very well, it is called "Amagami SS" and was based on a novel of the same name. There are several other anime that show this special date and how the characters react to it.

Christmas in Japan - how do the Japanese celebrate kurisumasu?

Oseibo - Gift exchange

The gift exchanges at the end of the year in Japan are not something original from Christmas. The "Oseibo" represents a typical habit of Japanese culture of giving gifts at the end of the year, during the Edo period. The gifts are sent between the 20th and the 28th of December and can be confused with Christmas gift exchanges.

The act of giving gifts at the end of the year was intended to thank the support and help of employees, people of higher hierarchical level and extended to relatives, teachers and friends. A different tradition of gifting the loved one.

With the emergence of Christmas, these gift exchanges mixed, but it can be said that "Oseibo" has a different conception, very particular to Japanese culture. We recommend reading our article about: meaning of gifts in japan.

Christmas in Japan - how do the Japanese celebrate kurisumasu?

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History of Christmas in Japan

Christmas was first documented in Japan through a mass held by Jesuit missionaries in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1552. Some believe that Christmas celebrations occurred before that date.

But Christianity was banned throughout Japan in 1612. During the prohibition of Christianity in Japan, some Dutch and Japanese people from Nagasaki used the Dutch winter festival as a way to celebrate Christmas in secret.

In 1914, a Christmas illustration was published in "Kodomonotomo," a children's magazine published by Motoko Hanin and Yoshizaku Hanin. During the Taisho Era, many other children's or women's magazines showed 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 mood.

On July 20, 1948, Emperor Taisho's birthday was excluded from the holiday calendar and Christmas was established as an annual event. It coincided with Emperor Akihito celebrating his birthday a few years December 23, boosting even more.

In the 1960s, with the growing economy and the influence of American TV, Christmas became popular. Some factors such as songs and TV series, Emperor Akihito's birthday (holiday on the 23rd), and KFC's advertising campaign to sell chicken, helped Christmas become popular among the Japanese.

In Japan, Christmas is not a Christian celebration, but rather a commercial holiday and a day for couples. This helps us to conclude that despite the Japanese not being Christians, they are very open to learning about 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 words in Japanese related to Christmas. Hope you enjoy this Christmas vocabulary!

There are several ways to say 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 it 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" that in Japan is like a Valentine's Day where couples go out on dates and stay in hotels. Christmas Day is called "Kurisumasu dee" [クリスマスデー].

  • 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;
  • Saint Kurosu [サンタクロース] - Santa Claus;
  • Kurisumasu Kyaroru [クリスマスキャロル ] - Christmas song;

In Japan during Christmas, it is common to consume fried chicken or karaage, so the words fried chicken [フライドチキン], Christmas chicken [クリスマスチキン], and karaage [唐揚げ] are widely mentioned during this period. All thanks to KFC's Christmas marketing.

Other related words are:

  • Yuki [雪] - Snow;
  • Shichimenchō [七面鳥] - Turkey;
  • Tonekai [トナカイ] - Reindeer
  • Hokkyoku [北極] - Arctic
  • Purezento [プレゼント] - Present;
  • Suzu [鈴] - Bell;
  • Snow crystals [雪の結晶] - Snowflakes;
  • Danro [暖炉] - Fireplace;
  • Shoushoku [装飾] - Decoration;
  • Yukidaruma [雪だるま] - Snowman;
  • Red-nosed reindeer [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] - Candy cane;
  • Yuki [雪] - Snow;
  • Shichimenchō [七面鳥] - Turkey;
  • Tonekai [トナカイ] - Reindeer
  • Hokkyoku [北極] - Arctic
  • Purezento [プレゼント] - Present;
  • Suzu [鈴] - Bell;
  • Snow crystals [雪の結晶] - Snowflakes;
  • Danro [暖炉] - Fireplace;
  • Shoushoku [装飾] - Decoration;
  • Yukidaruma [雪だるま] - Snowman;
  • Red-nosed reindeer [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] - Candy cane;
  • Iesu [イエス] - Jesus;
  • Tenshi [天使] - Angels;
  • Hoshi [星] - Star;
  • Magusaoke [まぐさ桶] - feeding trough;
  • Naya [納屋] - Stable;

Other Japanese Words Related to Christmas

Learning Japanese during this period can be very enjoyable. Vocabularies such as "Oseibo", "Kuri Bocchi", "Sori", among others, can be of fundamental importance for the tourist or student traveling through Japan during the holidays.

  • サンタさん = Santa San = Santa Claus.
  • サンタクロース = Santa Kurosu = Santa Claus.
  • クリぼっち = Kuribocchi = Spend Christmas alone.
  • 祝賀行事 = しゅくがぎょうじ = Shukuga Gyouji = Festivities, Celebrations.
  • 飾り = かざり = Kazari = Decoration.
  • 花火 = はなび = Hanabi = Fireworks.
  • 祝い = いわい = Iwai = Celebration.
  • 贈り物 = おくりもの = Okurimono = Gift(s).
  • お土産 = おみやげ = Omiyage = Souvenir (s).
  • 煙突 = えんとつ = Entotsu = Chimney.
  • 橇 = そり = Sori = Sled.
  • サンタハット or サンタ帽子 or サンタクロース帽子 = Santa Hatto or Santa Boushi or Santa Kurosu Boushi = Santa Hat.
  • お歳暮 = おせいぼ = Oseibo = Gift Exchange (at Christmas and New Year).
  • KFC = ケンタッキーフライドチキン = KFC (highly popular fast-food chain during Japanese Christmas).
  • 恋 = こい = Koi = Passion.
  • 愛 = あい = Ai = Love.
  • 赤 = あか = Aka = Color Red.
  • ケーキ = Keeki = Cake.
  • 雪の結晶 = ゆきのけっしょう = Yuki no Kesshou = Snowflakes.

Christmas lighting in Japan

Christmas lighting is very popular in Japan, so much so that it takes place months before December, there are specific dates for the lighting to be presented even before Christmas. I was in Japan in November and I already had lighting in Gunma.

 In Japan this lighting is called Irumineeshon [イルミネーション] or also from Denshoku [電飾]. Despite being widely seen during Christmas, the end-of-year illuminations are nothing more than a tourist attraction 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, large illuminations were also held at the business fairs in Osaka and Tokyo. In Japan, Meiji-ya, which deals with imported products, made a great foray into Ginza during the Meiji era.

Christmas in Japan - how do the Japanese celebrate kurisumasu?

Christmas Lighting Events in Japan

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.

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 ビ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 WardNIIGATA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

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

YouTube video
YouTube video
YouTube video

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