The Weird and Wonderful Traditions of a Japanese Christmas

All cultures have their own unique traditions when it comes to holidays such as Christmas, and some of these customs may seem a little bizarre to outsiders.

In Australia, the idea of relaxing on a beach at Christmas, having a barbecue outdoors, or eating fresh prawns and seafood at Christmas in July might seem a far cry from the red-breasted robins and snowflakes of a British Christmas.

In Japan, Christmas isn’t a historical trend that goes back centuries. In fact, it’s only really since the American occupation after World War II that it really started kicking off at all. It’s not a public holiday, but it is an event that people have adopted and enjoy celebrating.

Viewing a holiday through the lens of another culture’s interpretation (especially a holiday such as Christmas that has religious undertones, but is celebrated as a time of holiday and family gathering, even among a lot of people outside of the religion) always brings with it some intricacies, but Japan manages to knock most others out of ballpark when it comes to their unique Christmas traditions.

The national Christmas dish is… wait for it… KFC!

Hold on, what?

It sounds like the oddest tradition to outsiders, but due to a couple of coincidences and some good marketing, fried chicken is the national dish of choice for a Japanese Christmas dinner.

However it’s not just any fried chicken that the Japanese like to eat at Christmas time – it HAS to be from the famous Colonel Sanders himself – Kentucky Fried Chicken!

Back in the 1970s, KFC Japan had a fantastically successful Christmas marketing campaign where they dressed the Colonel up in Christmassy clothes.

This was mostly done because Japanese people who wanted to celebrate Christmas couldn’t necessarily access the traditional American turkey, and KFC saw an opportunity to strike. After all, chicken isn’t that dissimilar from Turkey, right?

The Japanese were certainly convinced that they were close enough, and kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii is still a yearly event for Japan to this day.

This sounds weird, but here’s a quick question that might make you re-assess our own culture’s approach to Christmas: what colours does Santa Claus wear?

The idea of Santa only wearing red and white isn’t new, but it was largely popularised over green and red, as well as the humanised, laughing old fellow we know today in general, by the Coca-cola company in the 1920s. We don’t drink coke at Christmas as a cultural icon, but it’s still shaped our understanding of the holiday to a significant degree!

‘Christmas Cake’

Christmas Cake in Japan, instead of being a thick raisin and nut cake, is a light and creamy strawberry shortcake with whipped cream and chopped strawberries on top.

This isn’t just for Christmas though. Eating strawberry shortcake is also for birthdays, and just about any special occasion if need be.

Presents for couples (and your boss)

Japan, as a culture, love the idea of couples giving signs of affection. On Valentine’s Day, women give gifts of chocolate to their partner, and sometimes to close male friends, and then a month later the reciprocal holiday of White Day sees men return those gifts.

During Christmas, there’s a lot of focus upon couples exchanging gifts, far more than families or friends. For the people that you work with and are familiar with in the neighbourhood, there is instead Oseibo, a tradition that’s faded a little in recent years, but usually entails giving out small gifts to other people that you work with.

For family, gift giving is more likely to happen at the New Year’s Festival, or during July’s Ochugen.

Oseibo has waned slightly, mostly because it’s a public and sometimes obligated gift giving ceremony, while Christmas is more private, and involves gifts you want to give to people who you’re close to and who know you.

For the Japanese, Christmas instead focuses on the one most dear to you. It’s very couple-centric, with a lot of Christmas depictions on TV and cinema in Japan revolving around couples, or the lonely, love-struck young people alone on Christmas.

Watch illuminations

Christmas lights are a huge deal in Japan, with entire districts lit up fantastically in dazzling displays. Some of these are absolutely mind-boggling in scale, and run all the way from November to March.

These can be thousands or tens of thousands of lights at a time, and often span across entire parks, malls, neighbourhoods, or just individual buildings.

Christmas is not a day off work

Christmas is more of an adopted tradition in Japan, and as such, it’s not considered a public holiday; therefore, unfortunately no one gets the day off work. Dust off that suit and shine those shoes, because after the morning gifts (and after making sure that your KFC order is ready to be picked up afterwards) it’s time to get to work!

A lot of Japanese people instead celebrate their holiday festivities on December 23rd, as it’s the Emperor’s Birthday and therefore people are actually awarded a day off.

Celebrating Christmas Japanese-style

If you’re wanting to take a leaf out of the Japanese Christmas book and have a relaxed, hassle-free Christmas, then consider booking a table at Kobe Jones to dine with your friends and family. We offer everything you need for a Christmas party or a Christmas Day lunch with a twist, with beautiful waterfront views at King Street Wharf or at the Yarra River. We can also cater for any kind of corporate End of Year function, whether you’re after a sit-down banquet meal or a festive cocktail party.

Dining at Kobe Jones is always an experience, and our 12 teppanyaki cooking stations at Wharf Teppanyaki and Riverside Teppanyaki are sure to add that element of flair to your party celebrating the end of the year.

If Christmas Day is what you’re wanting to plan and you’re thinking of doing something fantastically out of the ordinary, Kobe Jones is offering Christmas Day lunch and dinner banquets. Items on the menu include our fantastic seafood such as oysters, prawns, smoked salmon, lobster and crab, as well as duck, roast pork, and the traditional Christmas pudding with brandy sauce.

Get in touch to book a function today, for a Christmas you’ll never forget!

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