Uncommonly Coastal

Konnichiwa! Christmas in Japan is AMAZING!

Christmas in Japan?  Absolutely!  Some of these may totally surprise you, but we want to share several great reasons why this trip could be your new holiday tradition!

What makes it so special? Christmas in Japan has been evolving over the past years to include more and more of Western holiday customs, yet is able to still maintain their own culture throughout the season.


First, the impressive winter illuminations are the most popular attraction for Christmas in Japan. These are so unbelievably ornate that they are actually difficult to put into words. Some of these amazing light displays start as early as October and continue on to Valentine’s Day or even into spring across cities in Japan.  The streets, shopping centers, restaurants, and most public places are all decorated with festive colors and designs.  


In particular, Kobe’s Luminarie is the most spectacular light show. This Italian designed light festival was first held as a memorial to the victims of the disastrous Kobe earthquake that occurred in 1995. Below are two more of Japan’s popular seasonal illumination spots.


Tokyo Midtown: Lights cover all of the trees and the entire tower beside an ice skating rink.  

Marunouchi:  Nearly the entire district is illuminated, especially all along Nakadori Street.


Similarly, the numerous holiday markets that pop up on every corner are a large part of this appealing pageantry. These sell colorful ornaments, candy, mulled wine – anything and everything that can be enjoyed during this season. Adults and children visit these markets continuously from November to well into the new year, except for Christmas Eve when they are filled with couples.

A few of the most stunning markets are:

Roppongi Hills – Specializes in German-themed Christmas items such as nutcrackers.

Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse Christmas Market – Considered to be the most nostalgic and romantic places for people of all ages.

Hakata Station – This market features live performances every night and magical light and art displays.

In addition to these magical markets on the streets, malls and shopping centers are especially decorated to attract shoppers. These businesses are filled with specific Christmas-themed products.


Given that only 1% of Japanese are Christians, this holiday season is not based on religious meanings. In fact, Christmas Eve is considered their most romantic day of the entire year, just like our Valentine’s Day tradition. In Japan, it is a delightfully sappy celebration for couples only. Heartfelt gestures, sweet exchanges, and an abundance of love fill the night. Couples share a long romantic dinner and then take a slow, snuggly stroll to see the many amazing lights and decorations all around them.  

Some say that this tradition can be traced all the way back to 1902, when “My Lover is Santa Claus” topped the charts in Japan. They are also quite fond of two of our Christmas songs and play them non-stop everywhere during the holidays. Can you guess which romantic Christmas songs they love?  “Last Christmas” and “All I Want for Christmas is You” are their favorites.


Sadly, if you happen to be single on Christmas Eve, you do not venture out to celebrate.  It is seriously intended for couples only. 


While Christmas Eve is for wining and dining, Christmas Day is for KFC. Seriously! More than 3.6 million families enjoy their “party barrel” from “Kurisumasu ni Kentakkii.”

As the story goes, many ex-pats and visitors to Japan were disappointed when they couldn’t find turkey for Christmas. In 1974, Japan’s KFC Manager Takeshi Okawaru came up with a sensational marketing idea to attract customers. His campaign became a huge success – so much so that today, KFC is the most popular meal for Christmas. Although a slightly pricey tradition, it’s about more than just the chicken. It’s really about entire families coming together to share a meal and holiday joy, which is actually priceless.


In fact, it is such a popular tradition that families need to order their meals approximately 6 weeks in advance or face standing in line for hours and hours to try to get their chicken dinner.  More than 1/3 of the KFC’s yearly sales are made during this time period.  

When I think of KFC, I picture the big “bucket of cluck” from my childhood. In Japan, their meal usually consists of 8 pieces of chicken, shrimp gratin, and their traditional dessert known as “Christmas Cake.”  It is similar to our Strawberry Shortcake, a sponge-like cake covered with cream with luscious perfect strawberries on top.  


Sounds like an odd combination, right? Before World War II, Western desserts like cakes were considered a sign of wealth. The ingredients were not easy to find in Japan, so those who got them paid quite a bit for the items.  Our style of desserts became far more available after the war. Fujiya, a company in Yokohama, started selling the Christmas Cake in 1910. They are credited with the success of this dessert.


The fact that the cake is red and white, just like their flag,  helped it make it’s way into the hearts and homes of the Japanese people. The tradition is rooted in togetherness – focusing on sitting down and sharing cake with family and friends.  In their eyes, it really isn’t about the cake at all.  It’s really all about reflecting on their good fortune and with whom they share the cake.

Furthermore, sharing “Christmas” Cakes throughout the whole season has become a tradition. In reality, the biggest gatherings during the holidays are for New Year’s, rather than Christmas in Japan.  These family-centered celebrations continue throughout their entire 5-day New Year’s break from December 31 to January 5. All the relatives gather together to share meals, spend quality time relaxing, and welcoming in the new year.

Kurisumasu-Kun (Mr. Christmas)

As we know, Christmas in many countries has taken on an extremely commercialized tone. However, in Japanese celebrations, gift-giving plays a much smaller role.  Children imagine St. Nick appears magically and brings treats – since there are no fireplaces or chimneys for him in Japan! 


Another exciting reason to spend Christmas in Japan is Disney Tokyo.  It’s as popular there as it is here, especially during the holidays. Like the rest of their country, Disney Tokyo and Universal Studios go to the extreme with lighting, decorating, and celebrating Christmas.  Crowds love the many extra parades, electric light shows, and special performances that make it their “Happy Place” for Christmas.  It is truly magical.

World-Class Skiing

Last but certainly not least, Japan ranks consistently as one of the top destinations in the world for skiing and snowboarding. The country receives some of the highest amounts of snow in the world, thanks to the cold winds over the Sea of Japan. Therefore, if this is your sport, Christmas in Japan just became even more appealing!

With Japan’s variety of ski resorts, it is an ideal destination for everyone -beginners to experts. There are over 450 operating ski areas from which to choose, ranging from small local hills to huge, modern resorts. For a complete guide to everything from lessons in English, locations, and hotels to weather reports and webcams, visit www.snowjapan.com

Another excellent planning resource would be www.outdoorjapan.com. Just think…you could say, “When I was skiing in the Japanese Alps…” 

メリークリスマス! (Merry Christmas)

Overall, spending Christmas in Japan offers a one-of-a-kind holiday season. From the dazzling illuminations adorning the cities to the heartwarming blend of local customs and global celebrations, Japan is a magical Christmas experience.

Embracing the warmth of dear family and friends, the beautiful winter landscapes, and the hope for the new year, Japan promises to be an unforgettable and heartwarming adventure for the most wonderful time of the year.

Follow along on our 12 days of Christmas journeys. 

Finland – Day 1 (North Pole) 

Mexico – Day 2 

Japan – Day 3 (This post) 

Iceland – Day 4 

Barbados – Day 5

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