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  • Christina Theodorakis

Christmas in Japan

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, and Happy Holidays to everyone during this festive time of year.

You may or may not know this, but Japan is predominantly a Buddhist and Shinto nation, with less than 1% of the population categorizing themselves as Christian. In fact, if you go back in Japanese history, you could say that one of the reasons Japan closed its borders to outside travel and trade was to ban Christianity from the country, as the military leader of Japan at the time was afraid of a revolt by Japanese Christian converts.

Fun fact of the day aside, what about modern-day Japan?, you might ask. Post Meiji-Revolution Japan, when political power moved from the shogun to the emperor, eventually Westernized the country by allowing foreigners to live and work in Japan. And what did many of these foreigners want to do on December 25th? They wanted to celebrate Christmas! So Japanese stores complied with requests by offering more Christmas-related items in their stores even though the holiday never really caught hold among Japanese people even decades after Japan reopened its borders in the 1860's.

Then after World War II, Japan was introduced to capitalism and the commercial side of Christmas. That's when a brand-new meaning of Christmas was born with a (genius) marketing campaign by Kentucky Fried Chicken in the 1970's, convincing Japanese people that it's not a Christmas dinner without a bucket of KFC chicken, much to the amusement of Westerners like me who view KFC as fast food and not the Christmas feast that envision. Of course, this isn't the case for Japanese people, who have no qualms eating fast food and cake on Christmas. Christmas cookies -- or any cookies, for that matter -- and pudding aren't that popular in Japan, so cake has also become the dessert of choice on Christmas in Japan.

Like I mentioned above, since the majority of Japanese people have no religious affiliation to Christmas but marvel at the festive Christmas lights (known as "illumination" [note the singular form of the word] in Japan), they've romanticized the holiday to be just that: a romantic evening for lovers and not a day for families to spend together. Woe are the people who have any kind of religion-tied marketing campaign for Christmas in Japan, which is why Japan continues to be a tough market for Western companies to break into even though they recognize the opportunity to snag the loyalty of Japanese customers but don't know how to go about it. Again, no matter what your business or connection to Japan are, we're always available to chat at, so please feel free to send me a quick hello or Merry Christmas!

Now that your head has probably exploded, we wish you all a very Happy and Safe New Year! See you next year!


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