It still surprises friends back in the UK that Christmas isn’t a holiday in Japan. I can’t blame them. Christmas is so ingrained in our culture that, unless you’ve traveled the world a bit or have international friends, you’d just assume that Christmas is an important occasion everywhere. But, as you soon find out when you live here, Christmas is very different in Japan.
Actually, a lot has changed in the seventeen years I’ve lived here. I’ve seen Christmas be extended slightly to now encompass December 25th, particularly if that falls on a weekend, as shops can stretch the festive shopping for one extra day before shifting into Japanese New Year mode.
But Christmas is not Christmas as I knew it in the UK. It’s not a family occasion, but a ‘couple’ occasion. Actually it’s just like Valentine’s Day but at Christmas time. Couples will book restaurants and have a romantic meal. KFC will sell a ton of chicken (because through smart marketing they’ve made Christmas a KFC holiday). For family time you have to do the whole New Year thing here. That’s for families. That’s when the shops all shut and people have a big meal with the family.
I struggle a lot at Christmas. I get terribly homesick even after all this time. So we make an effort to make Christmas here even if the rest of the country isn’t really doing it. Whenever possible I’ve taken paid leave to be able to have Christmas Day off work (it hasn’t always been possible, but usually has worked out). And I fork out money to buy some Christmas treats from the UK. I put up a Christmas tree and a few decorations and my partner and I make an event of the day and Boxing Day. We have a special meal together and we exchange gifts.
Technology has really helped. I can FaceTime with my parents on Christmas Day, which is amazing. Without that I think it would be much more difficult. Netflix has enough Christmas films to keep you occupied and in the mood. The supermarket sells some things like cranberries for cranberry sauce. So it’s possible to emulate a British Christmas to some extent.
But the homesickness is strong and always hurts. I have friends here who really don’t like Christmas for various reasons, but for me it’s always been a time of great excitement—and of course this is followed by disappointment, but that’s also traditional!
This year I’ll be making extra efforts to decorate. We’re all stuck indoors because of the pandemic anyway, so it’s a good excuse to make the house feel festive.
Does Christmas mean anything to you? Do you make an event of it where you live or have you ‘gone local’?