What is Christmas Like in Japan?

What to Expect if You’re Spending Christmas in Japan

Japan might not be a predominantly Christian country, but it has adopted a number of festive traditions from the West over the years, putting its own cultural stamp on many of them. Spending Christmas in Japan is an exciting and totally unique experience – and one that everyone should try at least once in their lives. If you would like to bring a little bit of Japanese-style festive cheer to your Christmas this year, check out our previous blog on preparing for a Japanese Christmas. Read on to discover some of the key customs that have entered the Japanese end-of-year calendar over the past few decades.

Celebrating Christmas in Japan

Parties are held around Christmas day, with Christmas gifts exchanged amongst friends and family. These are often objects of interest from abroad, transformed into something that is uniquely Japanese. Many also have a Christmassy theme to them, like our Santa-san (Santa Claus) and yukidaruma (snowman) Christmas kokeshi dolls. With the Christian population of Japan thought to be fewer than one percent, Christmas is more of a commercial celebration than a religious one. Corporations line the city streets with lights, trees and decorations, and relentlessly plug their festive deals on TV – much like they do here in the UK, in fact! However, there are a few noticeable differences between Christmas in Japan and in the UK.


If you are planning to spend Christmas in Japan, don’t expect to be served turkey with all the trimmings. Thanks to a successful advertising campaign back in the ‘70s, KFC is the main port of call for a ‘traditional’ Christmas dinner in Japan. Well, at least it saves having to cook… One thing that you can be certain of getting is plenty of cake – although not the glutinous, booze-soaked slabs of fruitcake that you get here in the UK. Japanese Christmas cake usually consists of a light sponge topped with cream and strawberries. Since European Christmas markets have started popping up across Japan, stollen has also become a popular choice.  

Gifts and Oseibo

Giving gifts during the festive season is nothing new to the Japanese. Oseibo, the traditional custom of end-of-year gift giving, was almost a public obligation until a few decades ago, when it was overtaken by the less formal exchange of Christmas presents that you see today. Originating from the custom of placing offerings on ancestors’ graves, oseibo involves the exchange of consumables such as cured meats, sake and soap as tokens of gratitude. Many of these gifts are given to business associates such as clients and superiors at work, as well as other important figures like landlords and doctors. More recently, this practice has come to be seen by many corporations as a way to buy favours, and oseibo gifts have subsequently been limited to small items such as calendars and stationery. However, consumables remain a popular Christmas gift in Japan, and you often see items like beer, luxury cooking condiments and desserts sitting alongside other festive gifts in the shops. See our top ten must-buy Japanese Christmas presents on our blog!   We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Christmas in Japan. At The Japanese Shop, we have a fantastic selection of Japanese Christmas gifts to choose from. From stocking fillers to stunning kimono, artwork, tableware and more, you’re bound to find presents that your family and friends will love. Browse our website to view our full collection of Japanese gifts, and see our website for our Christmas information including opening hours and when to buy for Christmas delivery.
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