Merry Christmas from Japan, but Is This a Real Christmas?

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Ceremony of Buddha’s birthday



I am a Buddhist, probably. A large number of Japanese are also Buddhists, most likely.

It is because Buddhist funeral ceremonies are conducted for most Japanese people, probably for me as well.


However, do Japanese people have an exact knowledge of Buddha’s birthday? Although I don’t have the concrete statistics, most of them are not aware of the day. I thought I was not, but I don’t feel confident in the exact day, so I check it up in the Wikipedia. Ok! My memory is correct. April 8th is his birthday.


On the day, Buddhist temples celebrate the birth of Buddha and pour sweat tea on the Buddha’s statue which is portrayed of his legendary figure at birth. I have drunk it, but honestly Coca Cola has better taste. At the age when sugar was precious, this tea might be the sweetest beverage.


Compared with the Buddha’s birthday, all of the Japanese know the Christmas as the birthday of Jesus in spite of the fact that Christian population in Japan accounts for only one per cent of the total. So what do Japanese people celebrate on Christmas? I would like you to introduce unique and original Japanese-style Christmas.




Since 100 years ago in Japanese Christmas



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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)


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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)


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A prestigious Christian university named Doshisha in Kyoto




Until 1873, Christianity had been prohibited in Japan. From then on, only a few elites studying abroad in Europe or the United States became Christians. They established many Christian universities. The good example is the Doshisha University in Kyoto which has great prestige. Even the sons or daughters of Buddhism priests are willing to enter the university. However, somehow the population of Christians has not increased at all.


Japanese people first accepted Christmas on a massive scale because Santa Claus won the heart of Japanese. About 100 years ago in Japan, Christmas was the day when parents sent any Christmas gifts to their children.


He becomes a regular favorite.


As a kindergarten kid, I was already aware of Christmas, above all Santa Claus. I was an innocent boy who believed in Santa until 7-year old. On the Christmas Eve, I went to bed placing a long sock to wait for Santa Claus. When dawn broke, a present was placed but it was not the thing I wanted. Santa Claus wrote to me “It is not good to quarrel at school and not to obey your parents. I will give you a present that you want most on the next Christmas if you are a good boy”.


It was then that I started to doubt the existence of Santa Claus.


Anyway, the toy industry regards the Christmas as a big business opportunity.



Since 50 years ago; Jingle-Jingle Shopping Spree in Japan



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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)


Christmas cake



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(Offered by Osaka Chikagai Co., Ltd.)


A shopping mall with Christmas decorations


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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)


Christmas dinner



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Local commercial promoting Christmas cakes



As if to say to abolish the monopoly on the Jingle-jingle shopping spree by the toy industry, cake shops started to sell Christmas cakes.


They exploded in popularity, Christmas was transformed into a day when family members eat a big cream-filled decorated cake with strawberries.


This movie is a promotion song of Christmas cakes by a major confectionary maker in my hometown. I have listened to the music since back in the day, so I can sing this song without looking at the lyric even if it takes so long to leave the town. As a child, I like sweet cakes very much, but now I do not particularly want to eat something sweet. However, before I know it, I somehow feel obliged to buy a cake on Christmas.


By the way, it is not customary for Japanese people to have turkey dinner. Since Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan knows the custom well, so the corporation offers chicken dishes to win the Christmas business. Decorated cakes and chicken dishes, and what will be the next?




Since 30 years ago; Christmas as a Romantic Day



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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)


A couple in Christmas



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Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka in the past



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Spoken part in Japanese means “Who you would most like to meet surely feels the same”.


The Plaza Acord in 1985 brought the sharp hike in the yen. The export industry received an economic setback, but it is said that the subsequent interest-rate-cut by Bank of Japan caused “Japanese asset price bubble”.


Japanese people in a buoyant mood started to celebrate Christmas extravagantly. The subject matter of the Japanese Christmas songs is unexceptionally love between men and women. It is because since then Christmas Eve has been regarded as a romantic day when a young couple spend time along together.


Japan Railways managing Shinkansen lines touted long-distance lovers to get on the trains to meet each other on the Eve. The movie is the TV commercial of the JR Company in which a woman having a Christmas gift waits for her lover at Tokyo Station. This series commercial were created five times year after year. Traditionally, Japanese people take extended holidays during the year-end and New Year holidays. And it is customary to spend this season with their families. That is why Christmas in the process has been changed into a romantic day.


The rooms of first-class hotels like the Image 8 named “Grand Prince Hotel Akasaka” (Due to aging, this building is now demolished.) were fully booked up by couples many month before. As checkout time, they used to make a long line at the front desk.


How much money do toy industry, cake shops, Kentucky Fried Chicken, railways companies, and first-class hotels pocket as profit?


By the way, what do Japanese Christians do on Christmas? Of course, they calmly attend Christmas Mass. However, most Japanese are surprised at believers’ solemn behaviors, which reminds them that Christmas is the birthday of Jesus Christ!




Japanese-Style Valentin’s Day and Halloween



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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)


Chocolate for Valentin’s Day



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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)


As Japanese-style Christmas is cerebrated in a unique way, Valentine’s Day and Halloween also become distinctive events.


Valentine’s Day was sparked by confectionery companies in Japan. On the day, a woman presents chocolate to a man whom she harbors a crash on and conveys her true feelings. In my school days, I felt excited as to who gave me chocolate.


Somewhere down the line, confectioner companies started to sell “obligation chocolate”. Whether women likes a man or not, it becomes customary to give chocolate to men at work out of a sense of social obligation. I think Japanese people are utterly swayed by confectionery makers.


However, on the first Valentin’s Day since I got married to my wife, she did not give me chocolate. I asked her why. She said “You don’t like commercialism like that, do you?” Exactly, I don’t like it, but it is true that I was slightly disappointed. Since then I have been given chocolate every year, but inconveniently, confectionery makers “cooked up” “White Day” on March 14th. When men receiving chocolate on February 14th have to give any confections to women in return. The day has completely taken root in Japan.




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(Photo by (c) Photo AC)


Costumes for Halloween masquerade



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(Photo by (c) Ari Helminen, Disneyland Tokyo Halloween)


Dressed up women on Halloween.



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(Photo by (c) Ari Helminen, Disneyland Tokyo Halloween)


Dressed up women on Halloween.


To the chagrin of the confectioner industry, Japanese-style Halloween has been transformed into a festival not only for children saying “Trick or treat” but also for adults who are disguised as what they want to be hilariously.

The famous downtown Shibuya in Tokyo attracts real crowds dressing up for Halloween and they make a great to-do.




Cultural Diversity and Openness in Japan


Some get the wrong impression that this is unprincipled behavior. However, the characteristics of Japanese culture naturalize anything amusing and change its nature in their own fashion. Yes, Japanese culture is far from exclusiveness. I predict that Easter will be the next new and popular festival in Japan, but I cannot expect what the Japanese-style Easter will be like.


Over the course of human history, unfortunately, religious conflicts happen all over the world. The openness of Japanese culture may be a clue to the problem. Although most of the Japanese are Buddhists, the religion was originally in India.




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(Photo by (c) Ashinari)


Merry Christmas!


My heartfelt thanks to the photos or illustrations offered specially by

Osaka Chikagai Co., Ltd.