How Are You Spending Christmas?

Being from the U.S., when I imagine Christmas I usually think of putting up lights, picking out and/or decorating a tree together, baking treats to give the neighbors, classic holiday jingles playing in the background, and in general staying warm inside my house with good food, friends, laughter, and family.  Even not being particularly religious one way or the other, I find the spirit of the season to be refreshing and a time to reflect on the year before ringing in the new beginnings of the next.

Japan does Christmas a bit differently, though.  It’s not even a real holiday on the calendar, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself working both eve and day. (Depressing thought, I know!)  You’ll find light displays and a rotation of the same couple of holiday hits, but in general Christmas in Japan is like Valentine’s Day; it’s that time of year people want to make sure they’ve snagged a boyfriend or girlfriend to make some special holiday memories with.  With the recent declining rate of dating and marriage among younger people, Japan’s slowly been trying to move away from the idea of Christmas as a couples-only holiday and make it more accessible for everybody, but in general the idea of spending the perfect date with the perfect someone still reigns supreme.

Fruitmail polled participants on how they would ideally like to spend this year’s Christmas with that special someone, and here’s what they had to say:

  1. Spend time together as usual without doing anything special (28.7%)
  2. Spend Christmas alone together at that special someone’s house (17.7%)
  3. Go see a Christmas light display (13.9%)
  4. Have a Christmas party with family and friends (6.0%)
  5. Spend the night at a fancy hotel (5.8%)
  6. Drive out to a spot with a good view at night (5.1%)
  7. Eat dinner at a fancy restaurant (4.2%)
  8. Go on a shopping date and pick each other’s Christmas presents out together (4.20%)
  9. Go to the hot springs and spend the night (3.5%)
  10. Go on a date at an amusement park  (3.1%)

At number 3 on the list, Christmas light displays are some of the most popular dating spots all though the holiday season.  Unlike the U.S. where everyone piles into the car with some coffee or munchies and drives around the neighborhood looking for the best displays, people in Japan usually don’t put lights or decorations up outside, probably in part to the high cost of electricity and the sheer volume of people who live in rental properties.  Instead, a lot of cities and big name department stores put up gigantic light displays displays for people to walk through.  Around this time you’ll find lots of recommendations and guides to direct you to the newest and most popular ones, like this Christmas Guide 2013 put together by Yahoo!Japan.

© Sawada MIKA★★Diary

An example of a Christmas illumination in Japan.
© Sawada MIKA★★Diary

But how about if you’d rather throw a party like number 4?  Maybe you’ve already noticed there’s shortage on turkey and large, cured ham.  So what do people eat?  As odd as it might sound- fried chicken and cake!  Kentucky Fried Chicken saw a chance in the market and they grabbed it with an iron fist.  Every Christmas the famous fast food chain whips out a statue of Colonel Sanders dressed in his finest Santa suit, and although it might seem like an affront to good ol’ holiday cooking to us foreigners, lines sometimes go out the door and all away around the corner for fried chicken reservation pick-ups.

© ryussy777

People standing outside a KFC restaurant waiting to pick up their Christmas fried chicken.
© ryussy777

Lately the pizza industry has been trying to get their foot in the door as a variation on the traditional fried chicken fare.  We’ve done the pizza Christmas a couple of times in the past.  Pizza is a luxury here that will usually set you back 3,500 yen ($35 USD) a pie, so we normally don’t splurge on it.

As for my husband and I, we picked number 7 without the expense of a fancy restaurant.  No doubt you’ll find many hotels and popular restaurants in the area offering a Christmas “course” from around 15,000 yen ($150 USD) or more per person for a small feast, but it always seems a little silly and too  extravagant for us to drop that much cash on a meal that usually isn’t even that spectacular.

So to celebrate, we went to an Irish bar in Meguro called Seamus O’Hara and did their Christmas dinner plate + all you can drink set.  It only put us out 10,000 yen ($100 USD) at the end of the night and it was so so good!  The owner was such a nice person to boot- if you ever have a chance I recommend you pop on over for a beer or two!

© J // Washing Rice Blog

Turkey stuffed with a rice risotto, mashed potatoes, bread, mashed potatoes, roasted bell peppers, and fig pudding with ice cream for dessert. Love!
© J // Washing Rice Blog

Later we had a Christmas cake at home, which is another tradition that might strike you as a little strange.  People place their orders for a cake up to a month in advance at convenience stores or bakeries, and then go pick up it up on the arranged date.  The most popular pick-up dates are from the 23rd-25th.

© J // Washing Rice Blog

Strawberry shortcake and chocolate are traditional varieties, but we mixed it up a little with a strawberry and blueberry custard tart version.
© J // Washing Rice Blog

What are your plans for Christmas?  Are you doing anything on the list above, or just enjoying time with family?  Whatever they may be, I hope everything is wonderful and you have a very merry one indeed!

– J

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