Japan Folklore: Christmas Traditions

Christmas Traditions

Photo credits: Inside Japan Tours

Meri Kurisumasu!

In Japanese “Merry Christmas” is translated as “Meri Kurisumasu”, written both in Hiragana (めりーくりすます) and in Katakana (メリークリスマス). Santa Klaus, the chubby man dressed in red, is known as  Santa-san (サンタさん、サンタクロース), name imported directly from the USA. But in Japan there is another figure very similar to Santa Klaus, even if not strictly related to Christmas. It is Hotei-osho, a Japanese god of good fortune according to Buddhist tradition, and he is said to bring gifts too.

Christmas is not considered as a national holiday but, as it falls between December 23rd, the current Emperor Akihito’s birthday, and December 31st, schools are often closed for December 25th. Instead, it is considered a normal working day for offices. The atmosphere to which we are generally accustomed can be perceived since the end of October: decorations, lights and Christmas music crowd streets, shops and stations.

Photo credits: Condé Nast Traveler

The origin of Kurisumasu in Japan

Christianity was introduced in Japan by Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries in the 16th century. During the early years of Christianity many Christians were arrested, tortured and killed because of their beliefs. Only in the 17th century churches began to grow again and in the 20th century several missionaries returned to Japan. Today, Christians in the country of Rising Sun are about 1% of the population, and it can be said that the spread of Christian traditions started at the end of the 20th century. Christmas is universally recognized as a day of celebration for children and adults in the country of the Rising Sun too, although not considered in its religious spirit. Seen as a period of happiness, it has become an indispensable tradition. In particular, Christmas Eve is seen as an opportunity for couples and lovers to spend time together and exchange gifts. Married couples as well take some time for themselves leaving the children with Ji’i-san and Ba’a-chan (grandfather and grandmother).

Photo credits: JapanToday

“Kurisumasu” traditions

In addition to the exchange of gifts, seen more as a romantic gesture between couples, there are two other curious traditions that make December 25 very special in Japan.
The first is Fried Chicken and the second is the Christmas cake.

Photo credits: Google images

This time of year is the most fruitful for restaurants of the fast-food chain KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken). Here people order their fried chicken for Christmas days in advance. Everything started from an advertising campaign launched all over the country by the American chain in the 70s: “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!). KFC used it to attract the eastern population by offering them a complete menu in Christmas packaging that included chicken, salad and cake.

Photo credits: Google images

On the other hand, the Christmas cake is usually a simple sponge cake with cream and strawberries, and Christmas-themed decorations.
Also, it is not unusual at this time of year to hear the notes of Jingle Bells and All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey, as well as a vast amount of songs made by Japanese bands and singers like Nozomi Sasaki and Momoiro Clover Z.