Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas in Japan = an odd kind of Christmas!

Christmas in Australia is not what I consider a traditional Christmas, mostly because the season's wrong, but the two Christmases I spent in Japan were even less of a traditional Christmas! The first problem, of course, was that as Japan is a Buddhist/Shinto nation, Christmas is not even a holiday and so I found myself working on Christmas Day (there's a first time for everything). But the second problem - well, not problem, but something of an oddity - is that despite the fact that there is no tradition of Christmas in Japanese culture, they actually do kind of get involved with the whole Christmas theme anyway!

Kobe Luminarie
I remember very well that the shops started playing Christmas carols and started featuring Christmas gift ideas, even though it is usual only for couples to exchange Christmas presents (phew - that would be cheaper!). The weather is right, too, so rugging up to go out around Christmas time seems to fit with my view of a traditional Christmas. And there's the Kobe Luminarie, a spectacular light display that has no real connection to Christmas but since it's in December, gives you the feeling of Christmas lights. But New Year is really the important celebration for the Japanese at that time of year - sending a New Year's card to all your family and friends is vital, but Christmas cards aren't really done - and so despite the Christmas themes milling around, the day itself kind of passes by virtually unnoticed and then everybody gets ready to ring in the New Year instead.

Fortunately, when I lived in Japan my local friends took pity on me (and other foreigners) and managed to rustle up something of a Christmas. Midori, who taught me Japanese when I first arrived, invited me along to the Christmas parties she organised for her children's English classes; other friends took me on outings to Kobe Luminarie and to Universal Studios Japan with their heavily-decorated Christmas streets, and I was even entertained with a Japanese-style Christmas cake.

Christmas cake in Japan
So if you do end up spending your Christmas in Japan one year, don't expect quite what you might have at home - but enjoy it, just the same.


  1. Haha! Xmas in OZ is only the 'wrong' season if you're from the Northern Hemisphere!! Love your Japanese Xmas cake - maybe you could make it part of your current tradition!!!

  2. I'm not so sure Red - what about all our Christmas songs about snow and reindeer?! I like an Aussie Christmas too but it just doesn't seem to be the real deal. Good idea re the Japanese Xmas cake - although I'm still not quite sure what the bakery had in mind!!

  3. Interesting post ... I wouldn't have known. But sounds like a really interesting place to be at Christmas if only to throw light on what is a 'real' Christmas or the 'wrong' season. Perhaps we'll always feel that a proper Christmas relates to where we spent them as children? Mine were spent in the UK - and so although I appreciate and enjoy Christmasses elsewhere, they don't often have the same emotional or sensual appeal.

  4. Jo, definitely an interesting place for Christmas. Interestingly though, although I loved my childhood Australian Christmases, now that I've had European ones the Aussie version just doesn't stack up! I guess because we sing about snow and sleighbells ...


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