Author: Julie Yamamoto
During my 15 years in Japan, I spent many Christmas Eves and Christmas Days in Japan. In cases when Christmas Day fell on a weekday, it was work as usual. It felt a little strange for the first couple of years but I soon got used to it.
As we all know, Christmas became an adopted tradition due to Western influence. Retailers, hoteliers, bakeries and restaurants in Japan do a roaring trade and really help to add to the Christmas festivities. Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is synonymous with Christmas in Japan. My Japanese friends would put in their orders for chicken at least one month in advance. It was the one day of the year they were sure to leave the office on time (or even early) – they were diligent in making sure they collected their order so their families could enjoy the tradition. I could never really understand why KFC was so popular at Christmas time – my friends told me that it had been a tradition since the 1970s – it was a marketing campaign by KFC and it had stuck ever since.
Japanese families also enjoy Christmas cake but not the traditional fruit cakes/ plum puddings that I was used to growing up in Australia. Japanese Christmas cakes are usually vanilla sponges covered in whipped cream frosting and topped with perfectly cut strawberries. The cakes are decorated so beautifully – they are displayed in retail windows everywhere. It can be serious business – I remember my friends going to great lengths to order the perfect cake.
Whilst my married Japanese friends would go home to their partners and children, my friends with boyfriends/ girlfriends would go on much anticipated dates. They would dress up in new clothes and excitably anticipate what their partner had bought them for Christmas. They would proudly wear their gifts (usually jewellery or a new wallet) in the office the next day and wait for us to notice.
My fondest memories of Christmas in Japan are the winter illuminations. They were magical and just seemed to get grander and grander every year. My favourite illuminations were at the Nagoya Station in front of the JR Towers and at the Port of Nagoya. My husband and I would go every year to the various locations and marvel in the beauty of the designs.
Thinking of Christmas in Japan brings a smile to my face. I first saw snow fall in Japan on Christmas Eve 1995. I went with my friend to a Christmas musical concert in a grand hall and when we walked out the snow had just started to fall. My friend was also from Australia, and it was such a new experience for us – we both became so excited, and it was certainly something to talk about to all our friends and family back home in Queensland.
I long to enjoy a beautiful Japanese-style Christmas came again!