🔖 3 min read

It’s that time of the year again, where the dark, cold walks back from work are illuminated by fairy lights every ten houses or so, Mariah Carey’s found a permanent resting place in your head, and there’s a subdued, but excited, buzz in the air. Christmas is a big deal for us. What’s it like in Japan? Let’s take a quick look into how Christmas is celebrated halfway across the globe.

The atmosphere

In Japan, Christmas is a season for couples. Oh yes, one could argue that it is even more important than Valentine’s Day. Christmas Eve, in particular, could be said to be the most romantic time of the year. Book a romantic dinner with your SO, take them for a walk to see the Christmas lights (or “Illuminations”, as they call it) in Roppongi Hills, and you’ll fit right in. In fact, the Christmas lights in Japan are so spectacular that there are rankings published on this. (Fyi, Tokyo’s Midtown Winter Lights seems to be the place to go this year).

christmas lights in japan


As we know, Japan’s big on gift-giving and etiquette. For Christmas, however, gifts are mostly just exchanged between couples — it is a romantic occasion after all. Young children may receive gifts from “Santa”, which will be placed next to their pillow instead of under the tree (making Santa’s job much harder, no doubt!)

Christmas being a romantic season in Japan definitely saves people from the situation we find ourselves in every year – the back and forth with relatives between asking them what they want and not really knowing what to get them. If by chance, you are in this situation, then we’ve got some lovely recommendations from the Zusetsu, an English company selling unique Japanese gifts.  Be it Japanese-style washi trays to hold jewellery, keys or act as cup coasters, or even beautiful furoshiki to wrap your presents in an elegant, sustainable way. They even have furoshiki tutorials on their website that teach you to wrap a variety of oddly-shaped gifts!


When it comes to Christmas, one thing that we really can’t miss out on talking about is the food. It may sound bizarre, but sales for KFC shoot through the roof during Christmas — the effects of a very successful marketing campaign back in the 1970s that have lasted till the present day. In fact, the demand is so high that those who want the KFC special Christmas dinner will often have to order it weeks in advance. It’s no roast turkey, but it’s popular for sure!

For dessert, instead of Christmas pudding, Japan has Christmas cake – a beautiful strawberry shortcake with lots of fresh strawberries and cream on top. Luckily, this is something readily sold at most department stores as standard. Christmas day is not a national holiday in Japan, so having the convenience of ready-made food makes the whole experience a lot easier for those who want to celebrate after a busy work day.

japanese christmas cake

New Year’s in Japan

In contrast, New Year’s in Japan is a much more important occasion to celebrate. Its significance is more like Christmas to us, and places an emphasis on family. New Year’s is host to a whole plethora of other interesting traditions. At home, children receive otoshidama (pocket money) from their parents, and families gather to toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles) or ozouni (a broth containing chicken, vegetables and mochi) — the length of the noodles and the mochi as it is being stretched out represent longevity and auspiciousness for the new year. A visit to the shrine is also common to wish for good luck.

japanese shrine

Interestingly, there are traditions for the workplace, too. In a previous Nakama article, we introduced Oseibo, an end-of-year tradition where you give small gifts to people you are grateful for, such as your co-workers and friends. These gifts can be small, such as chocolates, or they can also be more luxurious, such as A5 grade Japanese wagyu. There is also the custom of Nengajo (postcards), in which you send a postcard to most people you know, as a sign of gratitude for the year. Most New Year’s cards come in a standard format that contains a lottery number, and every card is automatically entered for a lottery where you can receive gifts such as cash or food!

japanese chocolates zusetsu store
Artisan Japanese chocolates from the Zusetsu store.

Japan definitely has its own unique way of celebrating Christmas and New Year’s. Wherever you are, and whether or not you have any upcoming celebrations planned, we hope you have a wonderful end to the year.