Christmas in Japan? Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus in Japan (and Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty etc). With only a about 1 percent of the Japanese population following the Christian faith, Christmas is still celebrated, though in a uniquely Japanese way.
There is no Japanese word for “Merry Christmas.” People just say it as an English word with Japanese pronunciation: “Merii Kurisumasu” (Click to listen to the pronunciation).
Christmas in Japan is a festival of lights and rich decorations displayed primarily in the cities and depāto (department stores).In almost every shopping mall and cafe Christmas carols can be heard. (Listen to Silent Night in Japanese) Christmas tree and Santa shaped cookies and food displays fill the panya (bakeries) and food courts in the basements of the large depāto. Some families have cultivated traditions like the Christmas chicken dinner (from KFC) and pretty Christmas cakes. Many of the holiday light displays go up in November and until Christmas there is an atmosphere of celebration present. But almost immediately after Christmas day, Christmas disappears. The focus of everyone’s attention turns to Oshōgatsu, the New Year activities. See this post for more about New Years.
Christmas in Japan has been cultivated by corporations to create a “Hallmark Holiday” of sorts. Though more a commercial holiday than a traditional one, it is popular nonetheless. The Christmas atmosphere in the cities can be enchanting. Christmas eve is an important romantic day of celebration for young couples, something like our Valentine’s Day dating expectations.
One of the most impressive seasonal sights are the light displays, a.k.a., illuminations They can be extravagant and dizzyingly elaborate. We hope to soon hare some photos or videos of Japanese illumination displays taken by our students, faculty and friends.