Every year everyone is looking forward to celebrating the happiest and merriest season of all, Christmas! In Japan Christmas is also celebrated but not as a religious celebration, as there aren’t many Christians in the country. Only 1% of the Japanese population are Christian.

Celebrating Christmas in Japan is more of a time to spread happiness rather than a religious celebration. Regardless of one’s religion, Christmas is celebrated in the entire country and is enjoyed by everyone.

Most of the Western Christmas customs can also be seen in Japan and as usual the Japanese adds their own flare, making the celebration unique.

Christmas in Japan

Christmas in Japan is unique as the celebration is thought of as a holiday of lovers rather than a time to be with one’s family. Christmas Eve in Japan is the most romantic day of the year. By Japanese custom, lovers / couples will go on a romantic date at a special restaurant afterwards the couple will take a stroll to see some winter illuminations.

Couples may exchange presents but gift giving in Japan during Christmas plays a smaller role than it does in Western countries. New Year’s holiday in Japan is the time for families to traditionally gather, not Christmas holiday.

Christmas In Japan: Day for Lovers

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

In Japan, Christmas is not a national holiday and most of the businesses treat Christmas as a normal working day. However, most schools in Japan are closed on Christmas Day. “Happy or Merry Christmas” in Japan is written and pronounced as “めりーくりすます”, “メリークリスマス”, Meri Kurimasu. While Santa is known as “サンタさん” Santa-san or “サンタクロース” Santa Kurosu.

Japanese Santa?

Like other children around the world, Japanese kids also look forward for a visit from Santa on Christmas Eve and opening the gifts on Christmas Day.

Again, there is a unique twist on Japanese Santa, in western traditions Santa visits the house with gifts by climbing down the chimney. Ask a Japanese kid and they have an interesting answer, Santa is known as a magical ghost that appears with gifts!

Christmas in Japan: Japanese Santa

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

Japanese Christmas Dinner

You might be surprised as to what the Japanese’s have for their Christmas dinner. Any guess?

Rather than feasting on a honey glazed ham or a roasted turkey, the most popular Japanese Christmas dinner is fried chicken! It’s not just an ordinary chicken of course it’s KFC’s fried chicken! Who knew right?! This phenomenon very unique in Japan and might be a very strange tradition for those outside of Japan.

So how this became a Christmas dinner tradition in Japan?

In 1974 KFC’s launched a Christmas promotion headed by Takeshi Owara, who managed the first KFC branch in the country. The idea was to sell a Christmas “party barrel” inspired by the American tradition of a turkey dinner, but instead of turkey it is fried chicken. It became a national promotion with the name “Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakki” / Kentacky for Christmas in English and was a national hit! Since then KFC became a part of the Japanese’s Christmas dinner.

“Every Christmas season, an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families treat themselves to Kentucky Fried Chicken, in what has become a nationwide tradition.” – BBC

It is the busiest time of the year for this fast food chain, KFC, in fact they accept pre-orders as early as November! Here is a sneak peak of KFC Japan’s Christmas menu.

Japanese Christmas Cake

Japanese Christmas cake! or “Kurisumasu keki” is simply a sponge cake topped with whipped cream, filled and decorated with delicious red strawberries.

This decadent Christmas treat is also popular for birthdays and is seen as a symbol of prosperity.

Christmas in Japan: Christmas Cake

Japanese Christmas Illuminations

As early as mid-November there are plenty of winter illuminations set-up in the entire country and everyone goes crazy for these magical displays. Trust us nobody does it better than the Japanese when it comes to setting up the extravagant illuminations displays!

The beautiful winter illuminations make the busy streets of Japan alive and gives every passer by the mood of Christmas feeling!

Here is a list of the Best Winter Illumination Spots in Tokyo.