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The Unique Christmas Traditions and History of Japan

The Unique Christmas Traditions and History of Japan

You know that Japan is a country with a rich culture and traditions.

After all, that’s probably why you’re reading this article on the 7 Christmas Traditions of Japan You Might Not Know About in the first place!

However, when it comes to Christmas, do you think Japan has its own customs and celebrations?

This article aims to introduce you to different aspects of the Christmas celebration in Japan.

Readers will learn about the history of this Christian holiday in Japan, as well as its modern interpretation by Japanese people.

If you are interested in learning more about the Christmas traditions of Japan, keep reading!

If you want to check the contents of this article on YouTube,

please watch this video.

What’s the Meaning of Christmas in Japan?

When you think about the tradition of Christmas, the first thing that comes to mind is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, it makes sense that Christmas would serve as a religious holiday with spiritual meaning and significance.

However, as the years passed and Christianity spread throughout the world, the tradition of Christmas has changed and morphed into a secular holiday with different meanings and significance in different societies and cultures.

This is also true for the celebration of Christmas in Japan — the Christmas traditions in Japan are different from the rest of the world because the Japanese people chose to interpret this religious holiday in a different way.

When did the Japanese Christmas begin?

The first Christmas in Japan was during the Warring States Period.

In 1552, missionaries of the Catholic Church invited Japanese believers to celebrate the Nativity Mass.

However, Christianity was later banned by the Edo Shogunate's prohibition of religion.

This meant that Christianity was not accepted except by hidden Christians for more than 200 years until the arrival of the Meiji period.

Christmas in the Edo Period

However, there were some exceptions.

The Dutch people at the Dutch trading post on Dejima in Nagasaki celebrated Christmas in secret.

Missionary image

I am well aware that the Edo Shogunate did not favor Christianity. But we have our own Dutch winter festival. We want to celebrate it!

To celebrate Christmas, they held "Dutch New Year's Day".

It seems that some Japanese who had relations with some Dutch people were also invited to this festival.

The festival was also imitated and celebrated among the Dutch-loving Japanese living in Nagasaki.

And sometimes people from the Dutch trading post would go to Edo, where officials of the Edo Shogunate would prepare Dutch dishes based on the Dutch New Year.

Christmas in the Meiji and Taisho eras

In the Meiji period (1868-1912), Christmas was finally accepted in Japan.

Around 1900, when Meidi-ya, which mainly sold groceries, moved into Ginza, the Christmas shopping season began.

In the Taisho era (1912-1926), many Christmas-related stories and illustrations were carried on the covers of December issues of magazines.

In 1925, the "Christmas Seal," a donation stamp for the eradication of tuberculosis, was issued for the first time in Japan.

Christmas in the Showa (prewar) era

December 25, 1926.

On this day, Emperor Taisho passed away.

In Japan, the Emperor's birthday and the day of his death are holidays.

In other words, December 25, the day of Emperor Taisho's death, is a holiday.

However, the holiday only lasted for 20 years from 1927-1947.

Ironically, it was during this period that the custom of Christmas spread in Japan.

In the early Showa period,

Christmas has now become an annual event in Japan, and Santa Claus is now a thing of the Japanese child!

It was reported by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

In Tokyo, many cafes and coffee shops prepared Christmas menus, and waiters greeted customers in costume.

Amazingly, even in the midst of World War II, Christmas trees were decorated in the mess halls of frontline troops.

Postwar and Modern Christmas

After the war, the Taisho Emperor Festival on December 25 was removed from the holiday according to the law regarding national holidays.

Nevertheless, Christmas continues to be celebrated as an annual event in Japan.

Some stores start preparing for Christmas as early as early November, and some events are held on Christmas Eve, December 24.

After December 26th, Christmas is transformed into New Year's decorations!

Some people point out that the scale of Christmas in Japan is small compared to that of Christmas in the Christian world.

In fact, in a 2014 list of the top 10 countries to go to avoid the Christmas hoopla published by the travel website Skyscanner, Japan came in at an impressive No. 1, beating out the Middle East, Buddhist countries, socialist countries, and others.

This is because Christmas in Japan is not a national holiday and Japanese people work as usual on December 25.

Meanwhile, at home, many Japanese spend the day relaxing with their families.

Three people image

I really want to spend Christmas with my sweetheart...

There are many people who wish to spend Christmas with their loved ones.

Is Christmas a National Holiday in Japan?

Since Christmas is a national holiday in many countries, there is a talk to make Christmas a national holiday in Japan, too.

Because the year-end and New Year holidays start right after Christmas if they use their paid leave,

Anonymous image

Maybe we can take a long vacation...!

This is the advantage of this idea.

However, there are many difficulties to realize this idea.

For example, for many companies, this time of year is particularly busy.

Furthermore, the principle of separation of church and state as stipulated by the Constitution of Japan makes it difficult to make certain religious anniversaries a national holiday.

It would be nice if a holiday and Christmas happened to coincide, as in the case of the Taisho Emperor Festival, but the chances of that happening are slim to none.


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