Christmas in Japan: a low stress celebration of consumerism

Ross Hall

December 29, 2021
(Updated on December 28, 2021)

Photograph of Christmas decorations in Japan with a christmas tree in the centre, santa clause coming out of a chimney on the left and a kawaii snowman on the right

I’ve found Christmas an unpleasant time of year. It can feel competitive, as if those around me are trying to outdo one another in their celebrations, or the value of presents they’re buying or receiving. There are arguments about the spiritual message, and those who aren’t the “right sort of Christian” are informed they’re doing it wrong. There’s pressure to revel in decorations and overeat. Woe betide anyone who says they don’t enjoy it. They’re “humbug” and lacking the fabled “Christmas Spirit”.

My first “proper” Christmas in Japan has gone, and I’ve enjoyed it. Last year was chaotic thanks to trying to buy a house. This year I’m living in that house, which feels more like a home with each passing day.

Christmas is coming

Almost as soon as Halloween’s pumpkins were put away, the Christmas decorations came out. Shopping malls were covered in lights and Santa dolls, while supermarkets piped subpar covers of popular Christmas songs. Unrestrained consumerism took over with sales and stock wrapped up in “festive” packaging. By the start of December, it was like Japan had inoculated me against the Christmas Spirit. A lack of Slade and Wizzard screaming at me probably helped.

There was no expectation of enjoyment. Few images of families clustered around trees festooned with tinsel and their message, “If you’re not doing this, you’ve failed in life”. It wasn’t a special time of year, other than the national feast of KFC on Christmas Eve.

Christmas Day (aka Saturday)

The 25th of December was remarkably normal. Shops and restaurants were open as they always were on a Saturday. My wife and I went to Nitori to buy a backrest for her seat on the sofa, then to IKEA for a chicken lunch and a plush shark. We ended up on Rokkosan, the mountain overlooking Kobe, admiring the view and feeling a childish excitement at the light snow shower that swirled around us. That was as close as we got to “The Christmas Spirit”. Our day ended huddled under blankets in front of Beat Takeshi and “7 Days Reports” on TV, just as it does every Saturday. I didn’t even watch Die Hard.

Photograph of sunset with a band of orange light through the centre, snow clouds above and the Japan Inland Sea below
Sunset over Akashi on Christmas Day, 2021. A snow storm is visible in the far distance.

Of course, I missed my kids and the family meal. Then again, I didn’t miss the hours of work that goes into it. Nor the stress coordinating it all brings about, or the guilt from wanting to sleep the afternoon away because I’ve eaten too much.

Saturday was another day, albeit one with a cultural echo from my days in the UK. More important, it was a restful day, full of relaxation and enjoyment with none of the pent-up stress from weeks of preparation and expectation.

Bring on next year

Frankly, if this is what Christmas is like every year in Japan, then I must just look forward to it.

I'm Ross, a digital editorial designer and content creator from the UK now living in Japan. I help growing companies plan, source, produce and promote a range of content. Find out more

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