This year, I decided to stay in Japan for Christmas and New Years, to experience first hand the local flavour of the holidays. Christmas in Japan is a somewhat different affair to what we’re used to. Rather than a nominally religious holiday, Japan throws any pretence of that out the window and markets it firmly as a day for couples and presents. Almost like a Valentine’s Day II, if you like. Ingredients for a successful Christmas Day in Japan:
1. KFC. Before Christmas was a big deal in Japan, someone exceedingly crafty at KFC decided to market their product as the de-facto standard for celebrating a romantic, if not greasy, holiday. It’s now firmly entrenched, with other fast food chains spruiking KFC-like boxes of chicken out of the front of their stores, from stands erected especially for the day.
Rumour has it that you need to book your chicken months in advance to avoid disappointment. The sign out the front of the store directs people who have pre-ordered to a separate queue to handle the rush.
Alternative 1. Roast chicken. High end department stores sell whole cooked chickens like the one below. Unlike Australia, where you can pick up a decent chook for $10 at any supermarket, in Japan this is a rarity and it will run you $35 for the one below.
2. Christmas cake. Someone, sometime decided that Christmas was a holiday in search of a baked good, and so a sponge cake with white icing and strawberries became the essential buy for the day. Once again, cake shops start taking orders months ahead, so you need to get in early. Many Tokyo apartment don’t have ovens, so making one yourself really isn’t an option.
3. Guys forced to advertise a carwash and wear Santa suits on Christmas Day. Not essential really, just kind of interesting. I equate Christmas in Australia with almost everyone having the day off, and most shopping malls being ghost towns. In Japan, it’s just another day, not marked by a public holiday or any slowdown in effort. Lots of people will celebrate in the evening, but aside from the massive illuminations and decorations like you’d see anywhere else, these are purely for prettiness rather than any “reason for the season”.
In any case, the big show in Japan is New Years, the type of family-oriented day we have at Christmas. From most reports, the shrines in Tokyo are packed full of people going to receive blessings for the New Year, like some sort of monastic mosh pit. Wish me luck!