Japan's Crazy Christmas Traditions

Smosh blogger Lance  writes to us from his new home... in Japan!


On the surface, Christmas in Japan looks nearly the same as you find in countries...

 ...like America, England and Australia--Christmas lights; Santa Claus; Decorations; people shopping.

It isn’t a national holiday, so most Japanese people go to work on Christmas Day and celebrate on Christmas Eve. Naturally, it’s a bit different, and even more commercial if that’s possible.

(Shinjuku’s own “Times Square” this Christmas.)


Christmas Dinner

KFC (Yes, more KFC!)

Once again, The Colonel and “Kentukki” are rulers of all they survey. In the 70s and 80s, KFC was one of the few places foreigners could get a roasted chicken for Christmas Dinner.

The Colonel saw an opportunity and began marketing a Christmas Dinner Meal to Japanese people too. It was a simple roasted Chicken and wine for around $10—a lot of money at the time.

(2010’s Christmas Menu: Y1000 is about 10-12 dollars.)

This meal has blossomed into the most ubiquitous part of the Japanese Christmas. People “reserve” full meals sometimes months in advance to ensure their family will be able to enjoy the “traditional Christmas meal” of Japan.

(Japanese ‘It-Girl’ Haruka Ayase was tapped to lead this year’s campaign. No one complained.)

Not to be outdone, Donald McDonald (He is known as Donald, not Ronald, in Japan) has recently thrown his wig into the ring.

This year McDonald’s offered customers its “iCon Box Meal” whatever that means.

It’s Y1780, so for about $20 you get this…(see below)

Personally I’d rather have the Fry Tree.

So it’s KFC for dinner, but what’s for dessert?


Christmas Cake

The Japanese have created their own Christmas dessert, The Xmas Cake.

The cake is usually purchased for full-price on Christmas Eve and brought home to the family. The kids open presents, eat some KFC and everyone has some cake.

All the cakes, which don’t sell by the 25th, are sold at rock bottom prices to make sure they are all sold by the 26th.

Since Christmas is seen as a romantic holiday in Japan, this cake-selling phenomenon has spawned an expression referring to young women as “Christmas Cakes.” Easily married before 25yrs old, requiring a big discount (lowered expectations) thereafter. Ouch…

Some “Christmas Cakes” enjoying Xmas Cake, on the job.



Despite the less than romantic Christmas Cake analogy, Christmas in Japan is seen (or marketed) as a time of romance and new love. In a way it’s a Wintertime Valentine’s Day for young couples.

An illuminated Tokyo Tower is a popular date spot for couples on Christmas.

Most couples go to see Christmas illumination, have a romantic (Presumably NOT KFC) dinner, and then it’s off to a private place to “hang the mistletoe” if you will.

Japan Rail Company has capitalized on this romantic feeling with an ad campaign that they updated over the years to encourage couples to take a train to visit the one they love on Christmas and it’s full of Christmas schmaltz.


JR Xmas Xpress Commercial

Christmas Music

Of course you will hear all the Christmas standards everywhere you go in Japan. But there are two songs in particular which dominate the airwaves, commercials, and in-store playlists in a way that can only be described as overwhelming.

Wham –“Last Christmas


Mariah Carey – “All I Want For Christmas (is you)

These two songs easily control 80% of playtime here, and if you go to Karaoke around Christmas? Plan to hear them both--more than once.

There are plenty of Christmas songs by Japanese Artists, and even Japanese versions of all the classics. Here’s a medley with subtitles of the Japanese lyrics if you’d like to try your hand at singing them yourself.


Christmas Medley (Japanese)

Merry Xmas from Japan!


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