Wednesday, December 16, 2009

It`s Christmas in Japan Again

Oh yes boys and girls it is that special time of year again here in the land of the raising sun. Lets all get ready for another twisted version of Christmas here in Japan. As many of you may know Japan is pretty much a non-Christian nation. The very idea of Christmas is so far removed from Japanese culture that the holiday has been oddly integrated in the Japanese mindset. In Japan, Christmas is a completely secular commercial holiday. The natives of Japan make no connection to religion and Christmas. For the Japanese, it seems as if Christmas is all about presents, Santa, KFC dinner sets and illumination(Christmas lights), and spending some extra cash in high-end shopping districts like Ginza.

The Japanese secular take on Christmas has produced some interesting customs. Leave it to the Japanese to completely redefine the biggest holiday in the world.

KFC Christmas dinner:
When I first came to Japan several years ago I was surprised by how much Japanese people love KFC. I mean, KFC is deep fried southern style chicken. This is not something I expected Japanese to really go for. Yet, they love redneck chicken. They love it so much that every year during the holiday season Japanese people line up to buy a big KFC holiday dinner set. Deep fried chicken for the whole family!

It`s Happy Christmas in Japan not Merry Christmas:
I guess this one is a simple cultural misunderstanding. They always say Happy Christmas instead of Merry Christmas. I have actually talked to several Japanese about the difference between `Happy` and `Merry.` They don`t see the difference between the two words. They see every western holiday celebrated using `Happy -------` so it makes sense to the Japanese to say Happy Christmas as well. I try to explain to them that merry implies a special spirit connected to Christmas. Having no religious connection to Christmas they miss the point.

Christmas Cake:
This is something I found completely different. I for one had never heard of a Christmas cake until I started living in Japan. Every year all the supermarkets and specialty shops offer up fine quality beautiful cakes to enjoy. Apparently, the Japanese are taking the Christmas Cake tradition from the Brits(at least it appears that way from the Wiki article). It is usually just a fancy sponge cake. I had one last year and it was pretty good. I plan on picking one up this year as well.

Wham! Last Christmas:
In Japan is seems their favorite Christmas song in English is `Last Christmas` by Wham. I often wonder why the Japanese fell in love with a shitty song by a shitty pop band from the 80`s? Almost every place I go in Tokyo I get treated to this damn song. The Japanese seem to care less that the song is not all that good. I think they like it because it has a easy melody and refers to a happier past(the Japanese are obsessed with the past).

A Japanese Christmas is a bit different from what I used to experience in the states but I enjoy the holiday season all the same.

What do you find different about Christmas in Japan?


Anonymous said...

The British commonly use Happy Christmas too!

TheGhost said...

I have never heard any Brit say `Happy Christmas.`

Anonymous said...

As a Brit, I can confirm that we do, indeed, use 'Happy Christmas' as a standard greeting. 'Merry' is usually only used if it's coupled with a 'Happy New Year'.

We also have Christmas cake (although it's fruit, not sponge) and are very fond of Wham!'s 'Last Christmas' around this time of year.

I think a lot of the cultural differences you've detailed are US/UK, rather than US/Japan - the Japanese seem to have adopted their customs from us.


TheGhost said...

Someone is grumpy today. Okay, as always I am speaking from my own personal experience.
The differences I point out are between Japan and where I grew up.
I have never been to the UK so I cannot compare.

Anonymous said...

By 'someone' I hope you mean yourself! Not a trace of a grump in the information above; I was just trying to offer some information you might find useful or interesting since you were wondering about the things you mentioned in the blog. Apologies if I misjudged how welcome an outsider's experience would be. It's my first time visiting your blog so I approached it at face value.


TheGhost said...

Don`t worry so much I meant no foul in the grump statement.
I tend to be rougher to anyone who post as Anonymous.
Although your perspective is still very much welcomed.

Orchid64 said...

The main difference to me is that Christmas is marketed as a romantic holiday to the Japanese. It's not linked to family or giving, but to going out to a lavish hotel restaurant and then getting it on in a hotel room once the wining, dining, and gifting with a Tiffany boxed trinket is done. Japanese people who are single have told me that they only feel lonely at Christmas time, and that they associate it with love and do not see Valentine's Day as a romantic holiday.

I think they say "Happy Christmas" because the word "happy" is so well-known to them, not because they have absorbed British customs. Additionally, the "Christmas cake" seems to be more related to the Bûche de Noël from France given that the Japanese ones aren't made with much fruit (aside from strawberries). I say this because I've watched a lot of British cooking shows about making such cakes, and I think that the Japanese ones look similar on the outside to the cakes on the Wikipedia page, but are completely different on the inside.

I always see Christmas in Japan as being like Valentine's Day and Halloween in the U.S. Both of those have spiritual roots that we no longer observe and that most people are unaware of.

The thing is that it's hard to see Christmas as very Christian anyway since so many of the customs are linked to paganism and the date is unrelated to the actual birth date of Christ. I tend to see it more as a time of family, charity, and goodwill toward others than a religious day, but none of that is present in Japan. It always feels sadly hollow.

billywest said...

People here at Christmastime always talk about going to see the 'Illumination', which turns out usually to be just a bunch of blue mini-lights strung across a bunch of trees in front of a major department store.

TheGhost said...

@Orchid64--Never thought of it before but Christmas does have some romantic overtones in Japan. Not to mention that trains jumping usually increases around Christmas as well.

@billywest--While very pretty the whole Illumination thing does seem to be a little commercial driven.

Anonymous said...

I personally think it's celebrated the same here in the west too. people use it as a reason to shop.have a party or go to a party where they end up getting smashed.