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Japan's Festive Season, Explained!
Japan's Festive Season, Explained!
16th December 2021 • by Adam
16th December 2021 • Let's get festive! • by Adam
Let's get festive!
If you’re reading this, that means there’s a high chance you clicked on the christmas-y banner on the front page that links to this blog post, meaning the seasonal festivities might possibly be something you care about. Lots of people do, and for various complicated cultural reasons, Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays in the western world, even amongst people who are non-religious. In Japan, a country that only has a very small Christian population, Christmas is still surprisingly embraced, even if it isn’t traditionally celebrated in the way that you might think.

When I write ‘embraced’ or ‘celebrated’, I mean this very loosely - because of the absence of the religious roots of the holiday in the culture of the country, it’s mostly aesthetic elements of the holiday which you’ll find adapted in a variety of unique contexts.

Because so much of our products and inspiration here at Tofu Cute come directly from Japan, I thought it’d be fun to explore how Christmas is done on the other side of the world!
Festive Vibes
Much like here in the UK, the Christmas ‘hype’ begins to trickle in much earlier than December, with things usually getting into full swing by mid November in terms of marketing. In the many Don Quixote department stores - big multi-storey shops that sell just about everything, including a lot of oddities - their penguin mascot will suddenly begin wearing a Santa hat. Festive decorations to signage and mascot characters will become abundant. As example, just take a look at this Christmas version of beloved Sanrio character Pom Pom Purin. What could be cuter? We love this kind of thing here at Tofu Cute.

The shops will also begin to fill with seasonal tie-in snacks. Instead of more Christmas-y flavours that you might find in the UK’s seasonal snacks, Japanese seasonal treats are more focused around regional fruits or vegetables from the winter season.

Christmas lights and trees are to be expected, and of course Tokyo’s Christmas trees have historically been some of the biggest and brightest in the world. It’s not uncommon for Tokyo’s many districts to each have their own large Christmas tree, meaning there’s many spread across the entirety of the city!

Unfortunately, in Tokyo specifically, snow is quite rare. But if you’re lucky enough to live in North Japan, it’s a lot more likely, so there’s definitely parts of Japan that look like a ‘winter wonderland’ at this time of year.
Festive Activities
Many of the common practices of western Christmas are still observed in Japanese society, even if Christmas day isn’t often considered an important holiday. Giving each other presents, putting up Christmas trees and even people dressing up like Santa Claus. Sorry, I mean Santa Claus (who is totally real) visiting lots of places.

Illuminations are particularly popular as a concept, and there are many large scale lighting events across the country. Most big cities in Japan are already brightly lit, so there’s nothing unusual about that, but the lighting does become a lot more festive!

There is also a peculiar notion of Christmas as a romantic holiday, with many young couples embracing the holiday as a kind of winter-y alternative to Valentine’s Day. This isn’t necessarily a ubiquitous point of view on the holiday, but it has become more popular in recent years, with marketing teams in Japan continually trying to innovate on ways to sell something as both a festive and a romantic gift.
Festive Cuisines
Yes, if you can believe it, anywhere between October and November can see people in Japan queuing up to pre-order luxurious Christmas meals from none other than fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s somewhat unclear how this came to happen, but it’s something to do with the general unavailability of turkey and the absence of conventional ovens large enough to cook one in standard Japanese apartments. It’s so popular in urban areas that joining the pre-order queues is often essential to securing a fried festive meal!

For those who do not procure a festive meal from KFC, however, any meals based around chicken or Turkey where it can be found hold up as popular alternatives to the western Christmas dinner. For desserts, classic Christmas Cake is fairly popular as an option, as well as seasonal wagashi of various types.

Of course, there are often Christmas versions of the sweet snacks and drinks that you already know and love as a fan of Tofu Cute - Caramel Corn, Pocky and many more familiar favourites have all had Christmas editions.
New Year
Of course, the holiday season in Japan is much more focused around the New Year, which takes precedence as the primary holiday of the season. This is more embedded in Japanese tradition, and sees people taking time off to celebrate with their families.

Popular New Year’s Eve traditions include large festivals, the collaborative creation of mochi (and mochi decorations, called Kagami Mochi) and the consumption of soba noodles. There’s also a few more specific cultural practices, such as ringing bells at Buddhist temples, something which happens 108 times, representing the Buddhist concept of cleaning the world of the ‘108 earthly temptations’. There’s the practice of Otoshidama, where elders give young children money in decorated envelopes known as a gesture of faith in the coming year. The image to the right shows a kadomatsu, a decoration created from pine and bamboo intended to represent longevity and growth in the coming year. Lots of things happen on New Years in Japan - overall, it’s a lot more important than Christmas for their culture!
That’s many of the major points about the holiday season in Japan, but as with anything that has a rich cultural history, there’s sure to be some details I missed; I invite you to do your own research on the topic, you might learn something super interesting. Let us know what you’d like to learn about next time, and be sure to check out other articles on the Tofu Cute Blog!
If you’re reading this, that means there’s a high chance you clicked on the christmas-y banner on the front page that links to this blog post, meaning the seasonal festivities might possibly be something you care about. Lots of people do, and for various complicated cultural reasons, Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays in the western world, even amongst people who are non-religious. In Japan, a country that only has a very small Christian population, Christmas is still surprisingly embraced, even if it isn’t traditionally celebrated in the way that you might think.

When I write ‘embraced’ or ‘celebrated’, I mean this very loosely - because of the absence of the religious roots of the holiday in the culture of the country, it’s mostly aesthetic elements of the holiday which you’ll find adapted in a variety of unique contexts.

Because so much of our products and inspiration here at Tofu Cute come directly from Japan, I thought it’d be fun to explore how Christmas is done on the other side of the world!
Festive Vibes
Much like here in the UK, the Christmas ‘hype’ begins to trickle in much earlier than December, with things usually getting into full swing by mid November in terms of marketing. In the many Don Quixote department stores - big multi-storey shops that sell just about everything, including a lot of oddities - their penguin mascot will suddenly begin wearing a Santa hat. Festive decorations to signage and mascot characters will become abundant. As example, just take a look at this Christmas version of beloved Sanrio character Pom Pom Purin. What could be cuter? We love this kind of thing here at Tofu Cute.

The shops will also begin to fill with seasonal tie-in snacks. Instead of more Christmas-y flavours that you might find in the UK’s seasonal snacks, Japanese seasonal treats are more focused around regional fruits or vegetables from the winter season.

Christmas lights and trees are to be expected, and of course Tokyo’s Christmas trees have historically been some of the biggest and brightest in the world. It’s not uncommon for Tokyo’s many districts to each have their own large Christmas tree, meaning there’s many spread across the entirety of the city!

Unfortunately, in Tokyo specifically, snow is quite rare. But if you’re lucky enough to live in North Japan, it’s a lot more likely, so there’s definitely parts of Japan that look like a ‘winter wonderland’ at this time of year.
Festive Activities
Many of the common practices of western Christmas are still observed in Japanese society, even if Christmas day isn’t often considered an important holiday. Giving each other presents, putting up Christmas trees and even people dressing up like Santa Claus. Sorry, I mean Santa Claus (who is totally real) visiting lots of places.

Illuminations are particularly popular as a concept, and there are many large scale lighting events across the country. Most big cities in Japan are already brightly lit, so there’s nothing unusual about that, but the lighting does become a lot more festive!

There is also a peculiar notion of Christmas as a romantic holiday, with many young couples embracing the holiday as a kind of winter-y alternative to Valentine’s Day. This isn’t necessarily a ubiquitous point of view on the holiday, but it has become more popular in recent years, with marketing teams in Japan continually trying to innovate on ways to sell something as both a festive and a romantic gift.
Festive Cuisines
Yes, if you can believe it, anywhere between October and November can see people in Japan queuing up to pre-order luxurious Christmas meals from none other than fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s somewhat unclear how this came to happen, but it’s something to do with the general unavailability of turkey and the absence of conventional ovens large enough to cook one in standard Japanese apartments. It’s so popular in urban areas that joining the pre-order queues is often essential to securing a fried festive meal!

For those who do not procure a festive meal from KFC, however, any meals based around chicken or Turkey where it can be found hold up as popular alternatives to the western Christmas dinner. For desserts, classic Christmas Cake is fairly popular as an option, as well as seasonal wagashi of various types.

Of course, there are often Christmas versions of the sweet snacks and drinks that you already know and love as a fan of Tofu Cute - Caramel Corn, Pocky and many more familiar favourites have all had Christmas editions.
New Year
Of course, the holiday season in Japan is much more focused around the New Year, which takes precedence as the primary holiday of the season. This is more embedded in Japanese tradition, and sees people taking time off to celebrate with their families.

Popular New Year’s Eve traditions include large festivals, the collaborative creation of mochi (and mochi decorations, called Kagami Mochi) and the consumption of soba noodles. There’s also a few more specific cultural practices, such as ringing bells at Buddhist temples, something which happens 108 times, representing the Buddhist concept of cleaning the world of the ‘108 earthly temptations’. There’s the practice of Otoshidama, where elders give young children money in decorated envelopes known as a gesture of faith in the coming year. The image to the right shows a kadomatsu, a decoration created from pine and bamboo intended to represent longevity and growth in the coming year. Lots of things happen on New Years in Japan - overall, it’s a lot more important than Christmas for their culture!
That’s many of the major points about the holiday season in Japan, but as with anything that has a rich cultural history, there’s sure to be some details I missed; I invite you to do your own research on the topic, you might learn something super interesting. Let us know what you’d like to learn about next time, and be sure to check out other articles on the Tofu Cute Blog!
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About the Author: Adam
Adam is the lead writer of the Tofu Cute Blog and Wordsmith person at Team Tofu. When he's not making fun content for Tofu Cute, he enjoys being a huge nerd. He spends his free time gaming, reading, cooking and figuring out ways to make Godzilla and other giant monsters real.
About the Author: Adam
Adam is the lead writer of the Tofu Cute Blog and Wordsmith person at Team Tofu. When he's not making fun content for Tofu Cute, he enjoys being a huge nerd. He spends his free time gaming, reading, cooking and figuring out ways to make Godzilla and other giant monsters real.
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