The magic of Christmas is something that can be felt by anyone, anywhere around the world. The joy of celebrating the wonderful season with great food and better company is one of the most anticipated events of the year, and in Japan, it’s no different.
Watch as shops slowly roll out their ‘santa-san’ decorations and figurines, enticing children and adults alike to come hither. Marvel at the stunning light illuminations which go up as early as October. Take photos with the Christmas trees that pop up all around the cities, decorated with tinsel and baubles and everything in between.
If you happen to be in Japan over the Christmas period, there are a heap of things to do to celebrate with the locals. Try and tick off as many as you can from this list so that you can have the quintessential Japanese Christmas!
1. Eat KFC
Yep, you read that right! Ever since the 1970s, when a bizarre but sensical KFC chicken campaign took off in Japan around Christmas time, KFC has become as much as a tradition as turkey in the U.S.!
On Christmas day, family and friends will gather around to happily feast on a massive KFC feast. It’s become so popular that KFC stores all around the country will become inundated with orders; you pretty much have to get your order in a few weeks earlier to get a spot!
Over the years, the Christmas offerings have been chopped and changed, but one thing has stayed the same: Colonel Sanders Santa is a must-have guest at your Japanese Christmas celebration.
2. Shop at the Christmas Markets
From the top of Japan in Hokkaido all the way down to the west in Kyushu, small Christmas markets will be popping up all around during the Christmas season.
Visit any city or town and you’ll find small stalls selling things such as precious hand-made tree ornaments, hot cider, and Christmas-themed souvenirs.
If you’re after a unique blend of east and west, pop into the Tokyo Christmas Market. It’s sponsored by the German Tourism Association and is the perfect mix of European market flair with small culture Japanese touches.
This usually happens around the mid two weeks of December, so keep an eye out for updates on the next Tokyo Christmas Market!
3. Indulge in Strawberry Shortcake
The ever popular ‘kurisumasu keki’ is sold at every cake store in every corner of Japan during Christmas! This strawberry short cake is a delightfully light sponge cake, filled with cream filling and frosting and the juiciest strawberries.
Many Japanese people love this cake, and whilst it’s the unofficial cake of Christmas, it’s also super popular for birthdays all year around.
If you’re opting to get one for Christmas (and we highly recommend that you do!), you’ll be spoilt for choice.
Many cake shops will pull out all the stops to prime their cakes up to be the most adorable cake you’ve ever seen! From frosting to imitate snow, to tiny little Santa Claus figurines placed in the centre, you’ll find it difficult to divide such perfectly crafted cake.
4. Marvel at the Winter Illuminations
Illuminations makes winter in Japan a little warmer!
Whilst all the major attractions and shopping districts will definitely dust off their lights every year for an epic light show, you’ll also come across illuminations even in small countryside towns and cities far away from the major hubs.
Some of the most stunning light displays, though, would have to be in and around Tokyo.
For example, Tokyo Tower is undoubtedly one of the most popular places for people to visit for illuminations. On any day, this attraction is a magnificent photo opportunity, but during the light illuminations? Simply magnifique!
Another favourite of ours is Roppongi Hills. Every year, the popular 400m strip in this area is lit with brilliant LED lights which decorate the trees, framing the Tokyo Tower perfectly in the middle. It’s definitely one of the most popular places for photos, especially amongst couples.
If you haven’t seen this before, prepare for your breath to be taken away!
Read more: The 5 Best Winter Illuminations in Tokyo >>
5. Dance and Sing Along with the Disney Christmas Parade
The magic of Disney is no joke. People have said that, despite whatever their age may be, they’re instantly transported back to their childhood when witnessing the incredible performances of the parades at Disneyland.
Now, imagine all your favourite characters dancing and singing along to your favourite childhood songs, but dressed up in colourful Christmas costumes. Candy cane, bauble, snow-inspired Disney princes; tinsel, mistle-toe, tin soldier inspired Disney princes; the spirit of Christmas just elevates the parade to another level!
There’s just something about the extra touches in the Disney Christmas parades that will endear them into your memory and heart forever. If you have the time, we highly, highly recommend a Disney visit during Christmas. You may experience a larger crowd than normal, but trust us when we say: it’s worth it.
Christmas is always a special time of the year, but celebrating Christmas in Japan just makes it that much more special.
In line with the cultural elements of respect and outstanding service, every market you come across, every illumination you witness, every cake your purchase; you can just feel the dedication of the employee behind the display.
We hope you enjoy your Christmas in Japan, and if you’ve visited or plan to participate in any of the above, we’d love to hear about your experiences!