Christmas isn’t a religious holiday in Japan (given those post-apocalyptic Black Friday pictures, it’s not exactly holy in the UK either!). Less than one percent of the Japanese population are Christian, with the fast majority either Buddists or Shintoists, so Christmas in Japan is an entirely commercial event. This has given the western marketing machine the chance to steamroller its way into the public conscience and create a few ‘traditions’ of its very own.
Christmas dinner is finger lickin’ good
Whilst we might like to think Christmas dinner in Japan comprises of an incredible sushi platter along with some other Japanese favourites, or at worst, a sushi takeaway, the real story behind Christmas dinner in Japan is a lot less fishy.
Japanese consumers would be forgiven for thinking Father Christmas is actually Colonel Sanders, thanks to a prolonged barrage of marketing messages from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Over 40 years ago the chicken giant came up with a cunning plan. Christmas wasn’t widely celebrated in Japan, so KFC decided to launch their very first Christmas meal, consisting of a bucket of fried chicken and wine.
To say the gimmick caught on is an understatement. Now people have to book their KFC Christmas meal up to 2 months in advance, and that’s for takeout! Don’t believe us, watch this clip.
Love is in the air!
While Christmas across much of the western world is a family holiday, in Japan the onus is placed much more couples. Rather than celebrating on Christmas Day, the main event for the Japanese is on Christmas Eve, which is very much like Valentine’s Day in the UK. So, if you’re single, you probably won’t be doing all that much celebrating at all.
The top restaurants are booked up months in advance and jewellery shops and hotels enjoy a booming trade. In fact, if you’re considering getting married on Christmas Eve, think again, unless you’re happy to spend a bucketful of Yen.
Japanese confectionaries and bakeries sell delicious Christmas cakes which are traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve. Any that haven’t been bought by Christmas Day are either discarded or sold at a discount.
Unfortunately, this has given rise to a rather cruel Japanese metaphor. In the 1980s, any Japanese women who were unmarried by the age of 25 were known as ‘Christmas cakes’, as they were deemed to be past their prime. Thankfully, this has all changed in the last couple of decades and now this derogatory term has fallen out of favour.
Treats under the tree
For children across Japan, it’s good news, as they can expect to find plenty of presents under the tree. The even better news is that they aren’t expected to buy their parents any gifts in return! The reason for this one-sided gift giving is that children only receive gifts if they believe in Santa. If they stop believing in Father Christmas, their parents stop buying them gifts. This is why there are more 30-year olds in Japan who believe in Father Christmas than in any other country!
And anyway, why would you not believe Santa???