Christmas in Japan (日本) is actually a bigger thing than you might think.
Even though only a very small percentage of Japanese people follow the Christian (or any religion at all really) ideology, the time around the end of the year is still equally celebrated like in western societies.
As a result, it doesn’t have a religious background to it and instead focuses on the festive decorations and fun times. Unfortunately, it is not a national holiday in Japan which is why many people have to work on Christmas Eve.
This however doesn’t prevent most people from having a blast during Christmas in Japan. And you should too!
There are a number of reasons why you spend the time during Christmas in Japan. Let me gift them to you as an early Christmas gift: 😉
Embrace the Winter Illuminations
Japan is famous for the many illuminations it displays throughout the whole year. The ones during Christmas stand out the most however. You can enjoy these kind of shows in pretty much any bigger city of Japan, some starting as early as October all the way to February the following year.
Here’s a top-5 list for winter illuminations during/before Christmas in Japan:
The show in Kobe (神戸), southwest of Kyoto (京都), is amongst the oldest of its kind. Having started in 1995, the Kobe Luminarie features daily illuminations that were created by Japanese and Italian artists alike.
It goes on from December 7th to 16th and is free of charge.
Neighboring Osaka (大阪) celebrates the winter with two delightful illuminations. The first one is called Midosuji Illumination and covers the whole length of Midosuji Street in the city’s center. It already starts on November 4th and goes on until the end of the year.
The second one is held on Nakonoshima Island and showcases its historical buildings in beautiful design, inspired by past movements like the Renaissance. It starts on December 14th and ends just after Christmas Eve, 25th.
Both illuminations are free to enjoy and are held in the evening hours.
Next up further east is the Nabana no Sato Winter Illumination. Nabana no Sato is a breathtaking flower garden that I recommend visiting at any time of the year, really. It is also not only illuminated in winter, this year’s in particular will go on until May 2019.
Judging by size, Nagoya’s (名古屋) show is one of the largest in all of Japan will millions of lights across the whole park. The excitement is not free though, you’ll have to pay admission to the flower park which is 2,300 Yen (18€/$20; exchange rate as of November 2018).
Slowly approaching Tokyo (東京) we have the Ashikaga Flower Fantasy in Tochigi. This absolutely stunning show is of similar size to the one in Nagoya and also comes with musical shows alongside the lights.
It has already started back in October and will go on until February 5th next year. As it is located inside the Ashikaga Flower Park, you will have to pay its entrance fee of 900 Yen (6,97€/$7.96), which is an absolute bargain if you ask me.
Last but not least we arrive in Tokyo of course. No list is complete without the lovely capital. Tokyo hosts two free illuminations that start in November and go on until after Christmas.
First up is the annual lightshow in Shiodome (汐留), illuminating Shiodome City Center and the nearby park. It lies next to Ginza (銀座) and above Hamarikyu Gardens.
Secondly, there is famous Tokyo Midtown Illumination. I was fortunate enough to witness this one with my girlfriend and it was amazing. Literally every tree is equipped with lights, creating a wonderful scenery. As this is Roppongi (六本木) we’re talking about, you won’t have any trouble finding stuff to do (beware of the masses though). 10/10 would visit again.
That’s it for the illuminations! These are of course not all of the available ones, just some of my personal favorites. Other big locations include Kanagawa (神奈川), Sendai (仙台) and some cities on Kyushu (九州).
Taste some good KFC Chicken
You might ask yourself: “KFC and Christmas? OK. KFC and Christmas AND Japan?” Yes! Popular marketing campaigns back in the day created the tradition of getting a KFC dinner on Christmas Eve. And the people are serious about it! You’ll have to order/reserve way in advance to get a spot during this time.
I could hardly believe it the first time I heard about this but it’s definitely true. Now, not every Japanese person eats KFC chicken during Christmas but it’s quite a number!
If you too want to feel Japanese and get to know traditional values, this is a great place to start. 😀
Visit the many Christmas Markets
Japan has an obsession with European-style Christmas markets. It goes so far that even the German embassy sponsors some of these markets every year. I visited the one in Yokohama (横浜) between the red brick houses in 2017 and it was awesome!
It almost felt like one here in Germany (without all the cute and fun additions typical for Japan). If you’ve ever wanted to visit one of those (and eat some Bratwurst) but can’t make it to Germany, Japan has got you covered.
They’re basically everywhere in Japan in December, so you won’t have to go out of your way to find one. And not all of them are necessarily inspired by Germany! You’ll find plenty of different versions.
What’s Christmas without some healthy shopping sprees in search for presents, sweets and decorations. You might know by now that in Japan it’s all about the kawaii (可愛い, cute in Japanese). This of course doesn’t stop during Christmas which allows you to find sweets in all shapes and forms.
Japan might just be the best place to gather gift ideas as there are so many things to choose from. Get your loved ones something they have never seen before and put a smile on their faces.
While the service of hotel or shop staff is always top-notch in Japan, it just feels like they try even harder during this time of the year. Always a pleasure.
Follow Winter Parades
Tokyo’s Disney Resort has annual Christmas parades throughout December. If you’re planning on visiting either Disneyland or DisneySea anyway, you’ll have a great time catching one these parades.
They mostly feature Disney characters in festive costumes who entertain guests with their music and dances. Highly recommended especially when traveling with family!
Now it wouldn’t be Christmas without some gifting, right? Japan’s gifting culture is huge, not only during Christmas. Giving small presents as a sign of appreciation to family, friends and coworkers is an almost daily occurrence for some Japanese people.
If you’re going to stay with a host family, hire a guide or meet with Japanese friends, be sure to bring a little gift to show that you value their culture. You will almost always receive one back as well. And as it is Christmas, you won’t have any trouble finding things to gift (although souvenirs from your home country are also a good idea!).
Takeaway on Christmas in Japan
Christmas in Japan is an exciting time to visit as there is just so much to do. I find it fascinating that despite not having the religious believe, the Japanese people find such joy during the holidays.
You probably know that the term “wacky Japan” is a thing and it definitely shows in this time of the year. I think this is why it’s appreciated as much as it is, because Japan puts high emphasis on creating the best possible experience for its visitors.
I truly hope to be back in the future during December, it created some wonderful memories for me.
Find out for yourself! Bring your family or friends with you to Japan and rediscover Christmas in another country.
That’s it for Christmas in Japan, I hope you liked it!
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Stay tuned for the following post which is going to be about celebrating New Year’s Eve in Japan!
See you there!