Christmas in Japan

25 12 2011

Being in Japan has its perks.  One of them is that I get to celebrate Christmas a day earlier than I would living in the States.  Hooray for time zones!

According to MSNBC, “In Japan, children can snack on a traditional Japanese Christmas cake, a white sponge cake covered with cream and decorated with strawberries, while waiting for the arrival of the Santa-like Hotei-Osho.”


Something tells me this guy's a bit of a perv.

I’ve lived in Japan 4 years now, and this is the first time I’ve heard of the Hotei-Osho guy.  I’m not buying it.  Now, Japanese people do love their Christmas cakes, and they are white sponge cakes with whipped cream and strawberries; but I think it’s more believable that Japanese kids go to sleep with visions of Col. Sanders creeping in their homes at night to live good little boys and girls buckets of chicken rather than this Hotei-Osho fellow.

In Japan, KFC dresses up the Colonial as Santa every year. This creates mass confusion with the kids.

In Japan, people call Santa Claus “Santa-san”.  It’s nice that the jolly old elf gets a little respect here.  Calling him Santa Claus does show a little bit of unwarranted familiarity, and familiarity does breed contempt.

It’s interesting to note that in Japan, December 25 is not a day of celebration.  That honor is reserved for the 24th, Christmas Eve.  Christmas Eve is the time you want to be with your family or girlfriend/ boyfriend.  It’s when presents are exchanged and the traditional Kentucky Fried Chicken is eaten.  What we in the West refer to as Christmas Day is just another day in the Land of the Rising Sun.  Stores are open, people work.  It’s quite bizarre to an American.

Merry Christmas, eat your chicken and get back to work.

In America, people ask you for your “Christmas list”.  Essentially, we give people a selection of ideas that might make good gifts for us, and they get to pick one, some, or none, in order to create the illusion of surprise.  In America, Christmas is all about the surprise.  What did Santa bring you?  What’s in the big box?  What’s my stocking filled with?  Notice all of those are questions… things that will be answered on The Big Day.  In Japan, when people ask what you want for Christmas, they’re not looking for vague suggestions or hints.  Don’t give anyone a list unless you want to create confusion.  No, in Japan if someone asks you what you want for Christmas, they expect a direct reply, and then if they approve they’ll get it for you.  If they don’t, you have to keep naming things until you hit on something appropriate.  Here’s an actual conversation I had this year:

Her: What do you want for Christmas?

Me: A PlayStation Vita would be nice.

Her: That’s too expensive.

Me: Well, I said before I wanted a Wii…

Her: That’s too expensive, too.  You always ask for video games.  How about something different?

Me: Well, I like video games.  And everything else I need is way to expensive.  A new film camera cost more than one million yen.

Her: You’re making this difficult, what do you want for Christmas?

Me: Mario Kart 7.

Her: I said no video games.

Me: What about the list I gave you?

Her: It said “PlayStation Vita, Nintendo Wii (Black), Mario Kart 7, and Face Cream.”

Me: Well, that’s what I want for Christmas.  There are more archaic things I could have put on there; but you wouldn’t know what I was talking about.

Her: Hum…

What a surprise!



3 responses

25 12 2011

I was glad to find your blog so I went ahead and followed! 😀 Glad you had a good Christmas!! 😀 And I haven’t heard of Hotei-Osho either. xD

I didn’t realize the world didn’t stop for Christmas like it does here. That will take some getting used to for me, haha! 😛 I will have to try to carry on like normal for Christmas these next few years.


25 12 2011
James Bacon

This is funny and culturally relevant in the best of ways. Merry Christmas, Charlie. 🙂

28 12 2011

@alysesjapan: Thank you so much for following me! I hope you have a positive experience in Japan. There can be a little culture shock at first, so hang in there! Also, the dollar is super-low right now, be prepared for a little sticker shock when shopping.

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