The Japanese Christmas Is Unique and Funny, but Christmas Trees Are So Beautiful in Hokkaido.

Sapporo tower clock in winter, fully covered with snow, lit up at night beautifully.
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Strange and funny Christmas customs seen in Japan

Do you know what the most popular Christmas song in the world is? According to the 2022’s data of Spotify, a music streaming service company, it was “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Maraiah Carey. It was released in 1994, the song of my youth, though I strongly believed the most popular Christmas song must be “Last Christmas” by Wham. As you see, the standard Christmas songs are played everywhere even in Japan in this season, the same as other areas in the world, but there are a lot of differences.

As I wrote before, the Christian population is only 1% in Japan. Many Japanese people have misunderstood or even don’t know the spirit of Christmas. Due to the misunderstanding or ignorance, I think we celebrate Christmas in a unique and funny way, like rushing to Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants on Christmas Eve. Today, let me tell you some more of our Christmas customs that may appear strange and funny to you.

Japanese Christmas is not as easy as the ones seen in Christmas movies.

In Hollywood Christmas movies, we’ve learned Christmas is the time for family gathering in the western culture, but in Japan, the situation is completely different: Christmas is the time for lovers. Especially for young people like teenagers and people in their twenties, it’s the most important event of the year. They will be labeled as a loser if it’s found out to spend the Christmas time alone or together with their family. In order to avoid such a fatal blow, young people sometimes even create an imaginary lover only for this season. In other words, Christmas is the easiest time to find a partner in Japan, though it is said that relationships made in Christmas time tend not to work long.

I’m sure almost all the Japanese people believe Christmas is the time to eat a cake. Christmas without a cake is like an apple pie without apples. On Christmas Eve, it’s almost impossible to buy a cake without reservation in Japan. Why don’t you google it with the words like “Japanese Christmas cake?” You can see many images of white cream cakes with strawberries and some Christmas decorations. I know there are some other Christmas customs where people eat cakes, like Bûche de Noël in France and Stollen in Germany. Such cakes have stories related to Christmas, while Japanese Christmas cakes don’t at all. I think we may be just manipulated by the strategy of confectionary companies.

It is kids who have the biggest misunderstanding about Christmas. For most of the Japanese kids, Christmas is just a day when they can receive a present. Kids grown enough to know the truth related to Santa Claus are very busy in collecting information about new toys for future negotiation with their parents as Christmas gets closer. Sometimes a conflict arises in the early elementary class between kids who still believe and no longer believe in Santa Claus, but by the age of 9 or 10 at least, all of them become very good at negotiating their Christmas presents with their parents.

Snow-decorated Christmas trees in Hokkaido are so beautiful

A popular Christmas tree under the blue sky in the white snow hill of Biei town in Hokkaido.

The Japanese ways of celebrating Christmas are full of differences and misunderstanding like this, but there’s one thing we can brag about: a beautiful white Christmas in Hokkaido. If you want to see a real Christmas tree, you should visit Biei town. The tree is in a remote hill (see the above image). There’s no Christmas decoration on the tree, but at night, it’s decorated with a lot of stars twinkling in the sky without being distracted by city lights.


A corporate logo, the letters of C and H are combined to look like a tree in a circle

Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


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