Ben in Japan on Flickr
These two lovely ladies make one thing clear: The Japanese do celebrate Christmas! For everything that’s the same as in my country (full disclosure: the US), there are also a few things that separate the Japanese Christmas season from the one I grew up with. As Samuel L. Jackson pointed out in Pulp Fiction, “It’s the little differences.” Let’s explore a few of these differences by taking a fun TRUE/FALSE quiz–participation is optional, but A’s are guaranteed all around!
1) The Japanese Don’t Know the Meaning of ChristmasMIKI Yoshihito on Flickr
I think that depends on what you mean. Japan isn’t a Christian nation, and at least as far as I understand, most of the religious and familial meaning Americans associate with Christmas happens for Japanese people during o-shogatsu, the Japanese New Year. But Santa-san is still out in force, with Christmas sales abound in his wake. This isn’t a heck of a lot different from things in my hometown! But are material fulfillment and cute Santa suits the only thing we have in common?Dick Thomas Johnson on Flickr ShardsOfBlue on Flickr
Christmas is actually quite a romantic time in Japan. Couples stroll around illuminated spaces, have candlelight dinners and, in the happiest cases, marry on the special day. Of course, this is all done to strains of “Last Christmas.” 😉 The continued popularity of Love, Actually in Japan and the world over proves that Christmas is supplementing Valentine’s Day as a couple-centered holiday. Japan may be a Buddhist/Shintoist country, but materialism and romance still flourish in the snow here. So I’d say the answer to the first question is FALSE.
2) Kentucky Fried Chicken is Popular at Christmasrumpleteaser on Flickrgeraldford on Flickr
Well, I think the above pics are kind of self-explanatory. Yeah, it’s TRUE: KFC (known simply as “Kentuckii” in Japan) is very popular here, especially at Christmas. Check out this TIME magazine article to learn more about the ad campaign that inspired this wacky devotion. I used to be weirded out by the sight of Colonel Sanders in a Santa suit, but after 15 years (yikes!) I’m pretty used to it by now. Well, I guess it makes sense that Santa would chow down on fried chicken before making his rounds. 😉
3) All Snowmen are Created Equalrumpleteaser on Flickr
This one is most definitely FALSE! Take a close look at Japanese yukidaruma (snowmen, duh!) and you’ll see that most of them only have a head and a torso, rather than the three snowballs that we use the make them in the US. Also, weirdly enough, a single broomstick poked in diagonally is often used to make both arms—when I saw this, I wondered why I’d wasted so much time trying to shove sticks in there or make the arms from snowballs! Finally, despite the obvious love for Disney’s Frozen in Japan, Olaf’s carrot-nose trend really hasn’t caught on as far as I know. While the differences among snowmen across cultures may not be very profound, they are pretty cool…get it?
4) Japanese People Generally Don’t Work on Christmaskripptic on Flickr
Um, a big FALSE on this one! When I was teaching at university, I was lucky enough to have Christmas off—my current status as a chicken-scratcher and translator doesn’t entitle me to that in the least. In fact, as the answer to the first question should make it clear that Christmas is pretty much considered a working holiday and most people just deal with it! New Years is worth making a stink about, though.
5) Japanese Love to Decorate for ChristmasMIKI Yoshihito on Flickr
Dick Thomas Johnson on Flickr
If you’ve gotten this far, you know that this is absolutely TRUE! Bopping around this site as well as the rest of the Internet, I’m sure you can find many blogs (including mine!) extolling the beauty of Christmas decorations in Japan. When I first came here, I was very lonely during the winter holidays and considered all the brightness quite fake; however, as one of the happily-married people who now strolls around Tokyo hand-in-gloved-hand, I now consider them part of home.
I know I cheated on that last one, but it was fun anyway! A recap: FALSE, TRUE, FALSE, FALSE, TRUE. So, how many questions did you get “right?” Are there any other interesting traditions you know about or would like to? Please feel free to leave comments!