Sunday, February 6, 2011

Christmas in Japan (日本のクリスマス)

Japanese Christmas: So close, yet so far.  (Square Enix Store) 

While the decorations and Christmas products have similarities here with the Christmas at home, the actual holiday is very different from that back in the United States.  Japan's biggest and most important holiday is New Years Day.  Having an adopted holiday of Christmas in the same season as the biggest holiday of the year traditionally, seems to have necessitated the change in Christmas here, along with the lack of shared traditional or cultural history of Christmas.  Christmas in Japan is not the family get-together and gift exchanging holiday like in other places of the world.  In fact, Christmas has been transformed into a dating holiday here; the biggest dating holiday of the year.  People try to find a date weeks in advance for Christmas and those that don't find one try to stay home during the day and not see all of the couples out in the streets.  Another interesting switch is when it is celebrated.  The Japanese Christmas is celebrated on Christmas Eve and not on Christmas day itself.  Since there are no days off for Christmas people use Christmas Eve evening as the holiday, going on dates during this time.  By Christmas morning,  people are already putting away Christmas decorations and preparing for the New Years holiday.

Even Christmas Eve day is no different than any other in Japan.  However the ride home on the train starts bringing out Christmas in Japan.  The trains start filling up with couples about to go on dates, or if not of couples, then of men carrying Christmas cakes to their dates.  Christmas cakes is the biggest addition to the Japanese version of Christmas.  Having a Christmas cake is the only thing that all ages participate in during Christmas.  I found out the importance of the Christmas cake when audible gasps were heard throughout the room I was teaching when I said that Christmas in America didn't have cakes.  (Sorry to any Christmas trauma I might have caused explaining the lack of said Christmas cake).

The last major difference for the Japanese Christmas is the dinner of choice.  For the couples, this usually tends to be an expensive, fancy dinner date.  For everyone else, the dinner of choice for Christmas is surprisingly enough, KFC.  The popularity of KFC (Kentucky, ケンタッキー in Japan) is pretty unbelievable until you see it.  One thing is food quality here has to be good so KFC is pretty good here.  The other is KFC is the closest you can get to a traditional Christmas dinner without making it yourself, and with many houses not having ovens, it might be the only option.  Even so, KFC's on Christmas Eve are a pretty ridiculous spectacle.

Santa Colonel Sanders:  Yes KFC's have Colonel Sander statues in front of their stores and they're all decorated as Santa this time of year and are dressed up at other times of the year too.  I'll talk more about the Sanders in its own post later.
If that doesn't say Christmas, I don't know what does.
First, for Christmas Eve night, KFC does pre-orders.  People can place their orders a couple weeks in advance, pay for it and get a slip to redeem the meal on Christmas Eve night.  In the local KFC, the tables and chairs were pushed to the side and two large tables along with bags and bags of orders took their place.  The KFC had become a mob of pre-ordered fast food; something I would have never thought possible before that night.  The rest of the KFC was long lines of people ordering food now.  Even though it was around 6:30, many of the food items were already sold out.  The line was about 15-20 minutes long.  Sometimes the popularity of random Americana can really surprise me still and this was one of the biggest.  Christmas in Japan is basically the collection of the most popular and famous Christmas icons transformed into a cuter version thrown into a date holiday with cakes and KFC.