Merry Christmas, Mr. Yamamoto
Japan has adopted Christmas, although barely one percent of the population of 127-million are Christians. It is more so today than it was twenty years ago when I first arrived. I remember during my first Christmas season in JapanI was surprised and a little turned off when I saw a department store window display featuring a crucified Santa. Oh, well, at least the window designers at that time caught the two primary images of a Western Christmas. In my first years in Japanit was easy to find Season’s Greetings cards to send to people in Canada, but I made many of my own Christmas decorations by hand, just as I did with Halloween. But these days that is quite unnecessary, what with the giant Costco store and more nearby.
Now, stores have embraced Christmas window decorations and stock Christmas decorations and gifts. The 25this not a holiday, but the 23rd is, to commemorate the current Emperor’s birthday. So in my family we usually use the 23rd as the date for our family Christmas dinner party. We save gift exchange until the 25th itself, although when Christmas Day falls on a weekday as it does this year we have to wake up extra early to do it because the children still have to go to school. Christmas Day is often the last day of the school term here, and students have classes until early dismissal at lunch time.
So, lacking a majority number of Christians, and lacking a public holiday to commemorate the day, for what purpose do the Japanese endorse Christmas, and why do stores stock Christmas goods (including Advent Calendars counting the days all the way to December 31st) and decorate their windows and streets with lights?
Many Japanese engage in some kind of Christmas observance - typically buying and eating “Christmas cake” (layer cake covered with whipped cream and strawberries), and buying/exchanging gifts. It is just one of a large menu of year-end festivities for Japanese. But it has evolved especially as a kind of holiday for couples and lovers. It’s a time for romantic dinners (followed by short visits to love hotels for a “rest”).
In general, young Japanese children believe in Santa Claus. So, what I have never understood is why Japanese department stores have not discovered the annual Department Store Santa Claus tradition? Do managers know about it? If they do, why don’t they have Christmas Season Santa Clauses? It’s quite feasible and would certainly be easy enough. Japan is a very commercial, bottom-line culture, so the potential economic benefit to individual stores ought to make it appealing. The potential year-end economic bonanza of a sitting Santa for parents to bring their children to visit seems obvious to
Christmas is a kind of holiday for couples and lovers here. It’s a time for romantic dinners followed by short visits to love hotels for a rest.
Christmas trees - even giant ones in the foyers of major department stores - are well established. They are featured as the heart of Christmas decorations at the start of the Christmas shopping season here, which begins on November 1st, just after Halloween.
Young children in Japanese homes do receive gifts from Santa on Christmas Eve. Many homes these days host small (artificial) Christmas trees in addition to the many traditional New Year’s decorations. (New Year’s is the major holiday in Asian cultures - like a combination of thanksgiving, Christmas, and Canada Day rolled into one.) But the Christmas stocking - called just a “sock” - itself is placed on the child’s bed or futon for when they wake up in the morning.
Japanese churches are open for anyone to celebrate Christmas. So a religious celebration is an option. And, just as many people are likely to have a special Christmas fest as are likely to exchange gifts or do at least a little decorating. A typical Japanese Christmas meal features roast chicken (or chicken legs), cakes and sparkling wine.