Christmas in Japan

by Bill Egan, Christmas Historian

Japan is an east Asian island chain between the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan, east of the Korean Peninsula.

There is no official celebration of Christmas in Japan as less than one percent of the population is Christian. There is an unofficial widespread secular observance of Christmas due to the influence of Americans after the war and Japan's Christmas industry that provides decorations and trinkets for Christian nations.

As the Christmas industry grew, it was natural for the Japanese to become interested in the Christian celebration and to absorb some of the customs into their own society.

In a few homes you may find small artificial Christmas trees decorated with small toys, dolls, ornaments, gold paper fans, lanterns, and even wind chimes. Candles are also placed on the branches. One of the most popular ornaments is the origami swan. The Christmas trees are usually purchased with the decorations already in place.

For the past 30 years there are legends regarding Hoteiosho, who is said to be one of the gods from the Japanese pantheon. According to the stories, he is the character who brings the Christmas gifts. Since he is said to have eyes in the back of his head, it's natural for him to observe the behavior of the children in Japan. Further research indicates that Hoteiosho is another urban legend of Christmas that we can file away with the myth that "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was a secret Bible instruction for Catholics and that the words for "Silent Night" were written in a rush due to a broken organ.

One Japanese tradition that is a boon to the baking industry is the Christmas Cake. People purchase them since it is not normally a home project.

The Daiku, or "Great Nine, refers to Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony." This is traditionally performed in many places in Japan during the Christmas and New Year Season.

In Tokyo, unusual decorations are often created such as this 14-foot tall tree made from 3,795 champagne glasses. It's illuminated from within and the colors light up the night.

Christmas is often a time for adults to indulge in heavy-duty consumption. Christmas Eve is considered by many to be a prime time of the year for buying diamonds and other jewelery to give to a romantic partner.

On December 26, the decorations are taken down and the Japanese prepare for the fast-approaching New Year's holiday. New Year's Eve is the day to thoroughly clean the house and to dress in your finest clothes. New Year's decorations are usually fashioned from bamboo and pine. The kadomatsu, or gate pine, is placed at the front entrance and the main emphasis of the season is new beginnings. The New Year festivities continue until January 3.

2000-04 by W. C. Egan

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