Christmas Traditions and Winter Illuminations in Japan


Its gonna be Christmas soon and we can see the lights going up to announce the festival season.  Christmas sales have started and we can literally follow the heavenly smell of  plum cakes and cookies to the bakeries. Japan’s no different when it comes to Christmas decorations. The traditions however are very different!  To an average foreigner , this holiday can be confusing.

Why do the Japanese people celebrate Christmas?

A Roppongi Hills Christmas
Christians are a minority in Japan so it was strange that the Japanese people were into celebrating it. But once you ask around you realize that the emphasis is placed on celebrating Christmas eve rather than Christmas day. This might be because many people don’t get a holiday on 25th of December.

The second thing that confused us was that Christmas in Japan was celebrated like Valentines day in America. Christmas eve is perhaps the most romantic holiday in Japan – yup even more than Valentines day. Instead of spending time with their family, couples like to get dressed up and go out.  Presents are exchanged among couples and less frequently among children or family members.

Christmas Traditions in Japan –

As kids we were told about Santa Claus coming down our chimneys to leave us presents under the Christmas tree. We’d count down the days to Christmas, eagerly awaiting to unwrap the presents we got from our family and of course – Santa. In Japan though, there’s no concept of this. Instead, the family eats a Christmas cake and Christmas special chicken.  Okay the Christmas cake is not that weird because we have that tradition in our country too but chicken for Christmas?? – It definitely seems weird for a foreigner!! This tradition actually started because of some brilliant marketing and advertising by KFC. You can actually see a queue outside the KFC outlets on Christmas eve where people are waiting to collect their chicken for dinner – and not just any old chicken – its a special fancy Christmas chicken bigsmile
Merry Christmas

The Christmas cake is also different – instead of making a rich fruit cake, they make a strawberry sponge cake with lots of whipped cream – its delicious though!


5 Things you can do in Japan during Christmas –

1. Go shopping! Festival season is the best time to go shopping. With limited addition items being sold and seasonal sales, your shopping trip will be fun and light on your pockets ( unless you are like us and are a sucker for buying anything on sale :P) .

Happy salesgirls

2. We’ve already said that their Christmas cakes are delicious and its worth putting on the pounds eating those beauties. Lets not forget about some of the Japanese Cafe’s with their Christmas specials.

3. Japan just loves illuminations and Christmastime is no different. Some places might even have big Christmas trees  – maybe not like the ones you might be used to but hey – they’re still awesome. We love the Christmas decorations near Tokyo Skytree!  It’s really nice just walking around the streets of Tokyo around Christmas.

Tokyo Skytree and Christmas lights

4. If you like listening to Christmas songs to get you into the holiday spirit, we suggest you keep a bunch of them on your ipod or tablets because Japan is not really famous for shuffling their songs. Christmas of 2013, we had to listen to “Last Christmas” by Cascada EVERYWHERE we went – again and again. We love the original but…..

5. Visit Hiraoka-jinja in Osaka. On 25 December, the Shinto priests lead the crowd for 20 minutes of laughter. This ritual is not for Christmas but is based on the Japanese mythology according to which the gods danced and laughed to coax the sun goddess from her cave. This ritual sounds weird but its seriously the best gift you can give yourself during Christmas.

And if you, like us, really love Christmas Illuminations, here are the 5 spots we recommend:

5 Best illumination spots –

  1. Nabana no Sato :
    Light tunnel at Nabana no sato It is located in Kuwana City, Mie Prefecture right next to Aichi Prefecture where we lived. It is a theme park which has one of the best illuminations in Japan. There is a tunnel of light, water illuminations and the sea of clouds. This illumination lasts 4 months so there’s plenty of time to visit. We feel that this illumination is more romantic and dreamy than christmassy but hey – Christmas is romantic in Japan so why not!
  2. Ao no Dokutsu (Blue Cavern) : Close to Nakameguro station in Tokyo, this beautiful illumination stretches over the Meguro river for  about 1 km – hence the name “Blue Cavern”.  This illumination gives the area a blue glow because of the light bouncing back from the river.
  3. Kobe Luminarie : This festival has been held every year in Kobe since 1995. It was started to commemorate the Great Hanshin Earthquake of that year as a symbol of hope and recovery. All of the 200000 lights used in this illuminations have been hand painted individually. And THAT makes it even more beautiful!
  4. Sagamiko Illumination :
    SAGAMIKO ILLUMILLION 2009-2010This is one of the largest illuminations in the Kanto area. Sagamiko Resort Pleasure Forest has a wide variety of colors and music.  You can also enjoy the rides at the amusement park along with the sparkling scenery of the park. Isn’t that awesome!
  5. Ashikaga Flower Park : This beautiful park in Tochigi Prefecture has some Christmas lights hanging down like wisteria which is reflected in the water below while others are lighting a four seasons themed forest. They even have a Cinderella carriage. Talk about Fantasy-land!

Now let’s enjoy a Christmas song by “Monkey Majik” –

Your Thoughts…

What is your favorite thing about Christmas season? Let us know in the comments below!

Happy Holidays!

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