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Unsurprisingly, we’ve recently gotten quite a few emails asking about Christmas (クリスマス or kurisumasu) in Japan. Though this might be a bit late, I thought I’d endeavor to answer those questions today, unwrapping my presents with one hand and typing this up with the other.

A Brief History of Kurisumasu

Christmas in Japan is an interesting creature. The holiday was introduced back (during the 16th century, if you want to be exact about it) when Christian missionaries first came to Japan. In modern times, though, Japan being a largely non-Christian country, observance of the day is pretty secular—no midnight mass or nativity scenes or anything like that. In fact, many Japanese kids (and possibly adults?) seem to be under the impression that the day is a celebration of Santa’s Birthday. Not a wholly unreasonable thought, I suppose. Anyway, initially adopted by the Japanese government to gain acceptance from powerful and snobby Western nations, Christmas gained more and more popularity as the country modernized, reaching its most commercial form around 1960.

Birthday Santa

Pseudo-Holiday

It’s important to note, though, that Christmas isn’t actually a national holiday in Japan and is often seen as an offshoot of the New Year’s festivities, which are official. Still, to the relief of department stores, bakeries, and Christmas tree sellers nationwide, most people have adopted the non-religious aspects of the holiday, buying and exchanging gifts, eating “special” foods and decorating their houses (though not quite so much as their American counterparts).

A 2nd Valentine’s Day?

Aditionally, Christmas Eve is seen as one of the most romantic nights of the year. The 24th is a day often chosen for dates and confessions—remember the last episode of Hana Yori Dango when Shizuka tells Rui she loves him and Tsukushi finally kisses Tsukasa? That’s exactly kind of how it is in real life! Because of the popularity of Christmas Eve as a “date night”, hotels and restaurants usually offer discounts or special packages to capitalize on the lovey-dovey feelings going around.

KFC and Christmas Cake

Somehow, Kentucky Fried Chicken, or ケンタッキー (kentakkii) as it’s known in Japan, managed to convince the country in 1970 that fried chicken is what everyone eats for Christmas dinner. Most people (from my experience, anyway) see it as a kind of turkey substitute, as turkey is traditional for Western Christmases but not readily available in most Asian countries. Fried chicken is so popular that most Japanese families reserve their Christmas Party Barrels ahead of time; items bought between the 24th and 25th account for 20% of the company’s annual sales.

As for Christmas cakes, they’re not bought from any particular restaurant or bakery, but they’re pretty ubiquitous—more so, I would say, than fried chicken. They’re usually a vanilla sponge cake decorated with simple white frosting, strawberries, and a Christmas message.

Cake and Chicken

Fun Fact: Because Christmas cake is thrown out after Christmas Day (the 25th), the term has become slang for a 25+ year old woman who has passed her prime and is no longer attractive as a potential wife, girlfriend, etc. As they say, “Nobody wants Christmas cake after the 25th”. Now, I don’t believe that this is true (or particularly nice), but I thought it warranted mentioning, anyway.

About 50% of all Japanese people have bought at least one of the two items this year. Together, they comprise the stereotypical (some would say “traditional”) Japanese Christmas meal.

A Message From Tofugu

From all the writers at Tofugu, I’d like to wish you all Happy Holidays and a great New Year! As corny as it may sound, it’s true. We appreciate your comments and support more than we can say.

  • http://www.koichiben.com koichi

    Merrry Christmas!

  • Sarra

    happy holidays for you toooooo !!

    so the christmas in japan is different ! I knew that ! hhhh

  • kevinnwhat

    merry christmas tofugu team!

  • http://www.tofugu.com Erin

    Now that I think about it, I might have cried during the last episode of hanadan.

  • David

    Merry Christmas! :]

  • fredy

    MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!
    Well… 2nd day of Christmas?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Fe11OlMiz8 <– Awesome!
    I had wondered about Christmas in Japan. Apperantly another Kentakkii association I read somewhere was from “the chef”. He looks like a skinnier Santa Claus. Also, the whole “smiling Santa on the cross” is crazy! Haha. I want to see images of that!
    Christmas is just celebrated so differently everywhere, even in the US there are just different methods to celebrate it.
    HAPPY NEW YEAR as well.

  • fredy

    Also… “Tofugu Store”? I’m picturing a tofugu shirt. haha.

  • http://www.koichiben.com koichi

    Merrry Christmas!

  • Sarra

    happy holidays for you toooooo !!

    so the christmas in japan is different ! I knew that ! hhhh

  • kevinnwhat

    merry christmas tofugu team!

  • http://www.tofugu.com Erin

    Now that I think about it, I might have cried during the last episode of hanadan.

  • David

    Merry Christmas! :]

  • fredy

    MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!
    Well… 2nd day of Christmas?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Fe11OlMiz8 <– Awesome!
    I had wondered about Christmas in Japan. Apperantly another Kentakkii association I read somewhere was from “the chef”. He looks like a skinnier Santa Claus. Also, the whole “smiling Santa on the cross” is crazy! Haha. I want to see images of that!
    Christmas is just celebrated so differently everywhere, even in the US there are just different methods to celebrate it.
    HAPPY NEW YEAR as well.

  • fredy

    Also… “Tofugu Store”? I’m picturing a tofugu shirt. haha.

  • Tyler

    I luv KFC! Merii Kurisumasu to u!

  • Tyler

    I luv KFC! Merii Kurisumasu to u!

  • Lord Voldemort

    How romantic, christmas cake and… fried chicken!?!?! ha ha ha. That 25 year old thing is kind of a mean thing to say. that means i’m almost past my prime.

  • http://www.tofugu.com Erin

    Lord Voldemort:

    But you’re not a Japanese woman. You’re a Japanese guy. I’m sure there’s a double standard, so don’t worry, haha. Also, you’re not even close to 25!

  • Lord Voldemort

    How romantic, christmas cake and… fried chicken!?!?! ha ha ha. That 25 year old thing is kind of a mean thing to say. that means i’m almost past my prime.

  • http://www.tofugu.com Erin

    Lord Voldemort:

    But you’re not a Japanese woman. You’re a Japanese guy. I’m sure there’s a double standard, so don’t worry, haha. Also, you’re not even close to 25!

  • Richard

    Thats interesting, Ive never heard of that and i actually live in japan. Maybe i missed something?

  • Richard

    Thats interesting, Ive never heard of that and i actually live in japan. Maybe i missed something?

  • Anna

    Actually, I’ve heard from my TA for my Japanese Culture and Religion class that they’ve tried setting something similar to Christmas Cake for men that’s called New Year’s Cake, meaning that men are no good after they’re 31. Whether or not that idea has taken off, however, I’m not sure. xD

  • Anna

    Actually, I’ve heard from my TA for my Japanese Culture and Religion class that they’ve tried setting something similar to Christmas Cake for men that’s called New Year’s Cake, meaning that men are no good after they’re 31. Whether or not that idea has taken off, however, I’m not sure. xD

  • Rei

    yum….. fried chicken tastes good with a side of cake… i think

  • Rei

    yum….. fried chicken tastes good with a side of cake… i think

  • rockjon

    i’m pretty sure they have santa confused with elves as well. every christmas card i found in japan last year had hundreds of tiny santas parading around traditional looking buildings with cherry blossoms shedding there petals in the fore and background. so maybe they don’t have them confused, but merged . . .? and another thing, they leave decorations up well through january.

  • rockjon

    i’m pretty sure they have santa confused with elves as well. every christmas card i found in japan last year had hundreds of tiny santas parading around traditional looking buildings with cherry blossoms shedding there petals in the fore and background. so maybe they don’t have them confused, but merged . . .? and another thing, they leave decorations up well through january.

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    managed to convince the country in 1970 that fried chicken was the way to go come Christmas time. Most people (from my experience, anyway) see it as a kind of turkey substitute, as turkey is traditional for Western Christmases but not readily available in most asian countries

  • carmelitarojos

    A very Merry Christmas to you too :) Hoping you get everything you want under your artificial Christmas tree this year.

  • josismith84

    Fried Chicken and Cake, huh? I hope that they have the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful
    Christmas Lights during the holidays.

  • lewis

    Merry christmas to you! You can't have a Japanese Christmas without hearing this song on the radio, its kinda like Wham's Last Christmas.
    http://japansugoi.com/wordpress/beautiful-japan

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    The cool Christmas Day!

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    Now that I think about it, I might have cried during the last episode of hanadan.

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    The cool Christmas Day!

  • http://hi.baidu.com/yishiym123 TwoBlue

    Now that I think about it, I might have cried during the last episode of hanadan.

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  • Fuckyou

    hail satan and fuck everyone i hope they all die

  • Jenna Merritt

    betcha Christmas in Japan is better than in the US. 1. no black friday.