Japan Does Christmas (Sort Of)

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My first Christmas in Japan. I remember it like yesterday, even though it was nearly 30 years ago. As Advent unfolded everything seemed to be going according to plan. Shops played Christmas carols. Advertising took on holiday themes. Christmas cakes (a Japan thing) went on sale.  Corner Salvation Army troops rang their bells for the poor.

Then the big day came, and I had to go to work. There I sat on December 25, proofreading an annual report. Heck, even Bob Cratchit got Christmas Day off. The only other Christian in my office, a Japanese woman who went to Catholic school, sat at her desk like it was any other day. And it was. Unlike the Grinch, the Japanese did stop Christmas from coming. Sure, we had all the fancy packaging with ribbons and bows, but there was nothing inside. And I felt just as empty. That day I made a vow that when I started my own business, I would always take Christmas Day off.

Even Bob Cratchit gets Christmas Day Off

Back in those days, it was a thing to go out with your sweetheart to a fancy Italian restaurant on Christmas Eve and then attend mass at the Sophia University chapel. One year I did this with my future wife. It was nice, but still I had to work on Christmas Day.

Today, Christmas is bigger than ever in Japan…well, as a branding and marketing vehicle. Sidewalk Santas abound. Christmas movies are launched. Many commercial and public spaces feature the most amazing, outrageous and sometimes beautiful illumination displays and Christmas trees. Some animated installations are so popular you have to wait in line for up to an hour to see them.


Don’t Forget to Order your Kentucky Fried Chicken

How about the food, you ask? Can you imagine Christmas without Kentucky Fried Chicken? Most Japanese can’t. Yes, the country where turkey is scarcer than reindeer in Whoville, has made chicken, specifically the KFC variety, a Christmas tradition. Tell an American friend you were looking forward to KFC on Christmas, and they’d probably think you were either homeless or crazy.  

Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go in Tokyo. Just don’t expect to get the 25th off. Come in bright an early and make sure you get that important file to me ASAP. You may even have to work overtime. As for me, I’ll be home drinking eggnog and watching It’s A Wonderful Life.



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