Thursday, December 15, 2011

Merry Christmas!

You can probably guess, even if just by looking at the picture to the right, that Christmas is a little different in Japan than we know it here.

The broad strokes are still there - families and friends sometimes exchange gifts, and houses are decorated with Christmas lights.

But the types of gifts, when there are any, tend to be "cute" (or, as the Japanese would say, かわいい; kawaii), typically being things like teddy bears or scarves — things that we Westerners might give on Valentine's Day. Inexpensive gifts are also given around this time of year, more due to the upcoming new year than to Christmas, to less intimate friends. Here's an interesting excerpt on that subject:
More obligatory year-end presents are given during this season as well to people who have done you a favor during the year, however, in contrast to Christmas presents, they are given between companies, to bosses, to teachers, and family friends. These presents are known as 'Oseibo' and are generally things which are perishable or which wear out quickly for which the price can readily be checked because of the system of 'on' and 'giri' (loosely translated obligation and reciprocity). These presents are usually purchased at department stores so that the recipient can check the price and return something which relates to the scale of reciprocity.
Billy Hammond

More significant than the difference in gifts are the differences in actual tradition. The Japanese often celebrate Christmas with two signature foods. The first is a Christmas cake, a sponge cake topped with whipped cream and strawberries (click the picture for a recipe). By the way, I plan to make one of these myself for Christmas - I'll post the results, wish me luck!

The second, bizarrely, is Kentucky Fried Chicken. KFC managed to hijack Christmas with a very successful ad campaign some decades ago, and now takes reservations for "Christmas Chicken" as early as October. Many Japanese believe that this is how Westerners celebrate the holiday as well.

Hmmm... this post is getting a bit too long for me to talk about New Year's in Japan, like I originally planned. I'll leave that to my next entry, and I'll close this one up with a Christmas song straight out of Japan. If you want to read more about Christmas in Japan, check out the links below the video.

Christmas in Japan:

PS: My savings have passed 25%!

First image retrieved from Unusual Life.
Second image retrieved from Japan Guide.


  1. Probably the most brilliantly executed marketing campaign ever.

    I wouldn't complain about having KFC for Christmas, myself :P