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For those traveling over the holidays, or those living abroad and finding themselves unable (or just unwilling) to go home for the holiday season, the question of how to celebrate the holidays becomes an extremely important one. If you’re in Japan during the Christmas season, it may be hard to celebrate the way you did at Grandma and Grandpa’s as a kid, but you won’t be hard pressed to find things to do in the country to celebrate Christmas, even if in a different way than home.
In Japan, Christmas isn’t a religious holiday, but more a celebration of happiness that’s only been introduced in the last few decades. Japan is not a predominantly Christian nation, so the adoption of the holiday was originally due to American culture being so dominant, though now it is a holiday of its own and widely celebrated with gift giving and happiness, as well as some unique spins.
Christmas Eve in Japan is in some ways more popular than Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve, Japanese couples will go out on dates or plan romantic encounters to celebrate their love and exchange gifts. The day is more like a Japanese version of Valentine’s Day. Restaurants will be all booked up with couples and many enjoy spending the evening after dinner wandering through the cities to admire the Christmas lights and displays. If you’re trying to book a Christmas dinner for the night of the 24th, it’s best not to, and to wait until the 25th instead.
Christmas Day Disney Parade
Christmas Day may not be quite as celebrated as Christmas Eve, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a special occasion. The day is not officially a national holiday in Japan, meaning many businesses may still be open, but most schools are on vacation and in Tokyo, you can catch the Christmas Day Parade. The parade is held by Tokyo Disney and happens in the park itself. Kids will love the performances and guests, including Santa Claus himself!
While non-Christians across the US sit down for Asian food on Christmas Day, the Japanese folk sit down for some good ol’ Kentucky Fried Chicken. Fast food is an extremely popular meal choice on the holiday. The tradition began in the 1970s after a particularly successful marketing campaign to celebrate the American holiday after the first KFC opened in 1970. As Japan had no concrete ways to celebrate Christmas, the campaign became a huge success by giving families something they “should” do as a Christmas tradition.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with some traditional Christmas desserts. Japanese Christmas Cake is a traditional sponge cake with strawberries and whipped cream. The cake is probably most comparable to a strawberry shortcake.
Markets and Shopping
Looking for the perfect gift? Head to one of the dozens of Christmas markets. Each year across Japan, towns set up markets in the style of those you see across Europe. Large outdoor squares are transformed with stalls boasting handmade crafts and ornaments in figures of Santa Claus, snowmen, Christmas trees, and more.
Who said just because you’re not in a western country the malls won’t be decked out in Christmas spirit? While the markets are great for handmade crafts, the malls are the best place to get that specific thing you’ve been searching for. From decorations to full-sized Christmas trees, malls and department stores have it all and at a special discounted price for the holidays.
Japan loves lights. This can be seen all year round with fantastic and colorful displays coming from every part of every major city, but this becomes even more true around the holiday season. Parks are lit up with extravagant displays during this time of year. Popular displays include Tokyo Midtown, Inokashira, and Roppongi Sakurazaka.