Christmas in Japan
The snow has well and truly arrived, the heater is blasting – along with the Christmas carols. The Christmas tree is decorated and presents are being bought. Sounds kind of like a Christmas anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, right? Yes, it does. But there are a few things that make Christmas a little bit of a different experience in Japan.
Christmas is not a Public Holiday
It makes sense that in the largely Buddhist and Shinto nation of Japan that Christmas, a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus, would not make an official dent in the national calendar. And yet it still comes as a shock. It’s one of those things that is just so much a part of culture, of who we are as Australians, as Christians, that I always need reminding that while it may, in fact, be Christmas Day, that people go to work as usual and that school still happens (although most finish at lunchtime on the day itself). For Churches, this means that they commonly will hold a Christmas eve candlelight carols service in lieu of a Christmas Day service. This year does actually fall on a Sunday, so Japanese Christians get to enjoy celebrating as a Church family together on Christmas morning.
Christmas is not the family-gathering-together Day
Perhaps like some other Asian countries, New Years is the time to meet with family, to eat special food, and to simply be together. Many people with travel back to their ‘hometown’, or perhaps more accurately, the place where their parents live. Christmas is more to spend time with friends, to go out and do something, or in particular, go on a date (see next point).
Christmas is like a ‘Mini-Valentine’s-Day’
Many couples will go out on a date on Christmas eve. They will share a special, romantic evening together, looking at Christmas lights and eating out. While Christmas is advertised and decorated in the traditional way, Christmas also has a Valentine’s Day-esque feel to it. There’s even a Japanese word which mixes the words “Christmas” and “all alone/by oneself” into one word, to explain the feeling of being single or alone on Christmas even – クリぼっち (kuri-bochi).
Christmas Parties are different
When I imagine Christmas parties in Australia, there are a lot of mixed Christmas-break up party type images that come to mind. Barbecues, outdoors enjoying the sun, people drinking too much, Kris Kringle, sunburn, pavlova, dancing etc. Here in Japan, it’s mostly Churches and missionaries, and some Kindergartens, that run Christmas Parties. For the most part, Churches view this time as a way to reach out to people and share the true meaning of Christmas. They might include some games, Christmas carols, Christmas crafts and inevitable snack-time. I’m just trying to think about whether Churches in Australia typically do Christmas Parties? I think maybe not? Perhaps you might have a Christmas Carols event, and a special service on Christmas Day but not parties so much. I can’t remember any Church Christmas parties anyway.
Christmas Food – KFC and Strawberry Sponge Cake
Through a very successful marketing campaign over 40 years ago, KFC has now become a crucial part of celebrating Christmas in Japan. And if not KFC then Chicken of any kind. I made the mistake last year of simply planning to go to Costco on Christmas Eve to pick up some of their Barbeque Chickens – the only place I have found them yet. Well, let’s just say it didn’t go so well. Despite arriving within 30 minutes of opening, we received a ticket for the chicken and it was going to be a 4 or 5-hour wait. So we decided to have pork instead. Apparently, you can easily wait just as long for a bucket of KFC. Christmas cake is also a big deal here, but not the heavy, fruity kind. A kind of sponge cake decorated with cream and strawberries is the Japanese version of Christmas cake. I’m not sure how that one came about, but it is pretty tasty.
The Meaning of Christmas
Most Japanese people have not heard about Jesus. Most have no Christian friends. So it is unsurprising that most do not know the real meaning of Christmas – most do not know the hope that we have because of Jesus being born so many many years ago. Please pray for Japan – that many people would hear this wonderful news over the Christmas period. Pray for us and the many other workers here trying to point people to Jesus. Pray that this year Christmas would be a time of people meeting the true Saviour, and enjoying fellowship with Him more than going on a date, more than KFC and more than strawberry cake.