Japanese Christmas Traditions

By Nina N

It’s that time of year; Christmas trees, bright lights, strawberry shortcake, and KFC. Wait, KFC? And strawberry shortcake? While Japan is known for its anime, robots, and “kawaii” things, it’s not very known for its foreign Christmas traditions. Here, you will learn the different Christmas customs from Japan.

Let us start with FOOD:
In America, most households will have a Christmas dinner that consists of roast turkey, beef, ham, or pork. Of course, other dishes are served, but these are the main types of foods. Well, Japan’s dinner plans are a bit different. KFC is widely known in Japan as their Christmas meal. According to BBC.com, “December is a busy month for KFC in Japan – daily sales at some restaurants during the Christmas period can be 10 times their usual take. Getting the KFC special Christmas dinner often requires ordering it weeks in advance, and those who didn’t will wait in line, sometimes for hours.” In 1974, KFC took their market countrywide, calling it クリスマスにはケンタッキー, or Kentucky for Christmas. It was a blast and “Harvard-educated” Okawara took off quickly, who climbed through the company ranks and served as president and CEO of Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan from the year 1984 to 2002. Then, to finish dinner off with some nice dessert, almost all Japanese families enjoy some strawberry shortcake. Now, the strawberry shortcake you are thinking of is probably some manufactured trash that doesn’t taste like cake because it has so many artificial aspects. (Author’s note: Sorry for the rant.) No, the strawberry shortcake I am talking about is like the one shown below.

REAL strawberry shortcake

How do most Japanese citizens spend Christmas?
While most people around the world would spend this special day with their close family, most Japanese couples take this day to spend time with each other. Going shopping, exchanging gifts, going out for dinner, and even going off to see some beautiful illuminations. Tokyo Skytree displays bright lights every Christmas. Of course, there are other illuminations people can go see, but this is one of the most known illuminations. 

Some more facts that are very interesting
- Japan has been celebrating Christmas for only a few decades.
- Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan.
- The Emperor of Japan, Akihito’s birthday is on December 23. This is a national holiday.
- Holiday break in Japan begins around the 23, however, most businesses will consider the 25th as a normal working day.

New Year's Eve
Christmas is not very common, but New Year’s is a much more recognized holiday.
Here are some traditions that are held in Japan:

- Every night on New Year’s Eve, Buddhist temples all around the country of Japan ring their 梵鐘, or bonshō, which is a temple bell, an even amount of 108 times. This event is called 除夜の鐘, or joya no kane. The joya no kane is a ritual that is meant to drive away negative emotions from the year.

- Mochi- A type of chewy rice cake. Mochi is a classic New Year’s food in Japan. These little cakes are even used as decorations called 鏡餅, or Kagami Mochi. Making mochi is very tiresome work and requires lots of patience and strength, so most households will buy it premade.

These only a few of many traditions of both Christmas and New Year’s. Hopefully, you’ll take this
information and consider how Christmas is different in all countries.


  1. Amazingly detailed and specific! I enjoyed reading this article-especially since it helped me procrastinate and put off my homework! :)

  2. Wow, this is really cool! I love learning about other countries and their customs/traditions!


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