How to Celebrate Christmas Like the Japanese

Japanese festive season starts early, with Christmas lights going up as early as the end of October. The Japanese love festivals and celebration, and their Christmas is no exception. Though Christmas Day itself is not a national holiday, it’s a great time for celebration, with a focus on spreading happiness to both loved ones and strangers. While Christmas Day is often spent on charitable acts, taking care of the sick and giving aid to the poor, Christmas Eve is the focal point of the holiday for most adults in Japan.

Whereas many Western readers will recognise Christmas as a time to spend with family and, for many, to embrace the Christian story of the nativity, Japanese Christmas is big on romance. More akin to Valentine’s Day in the US and the UK, Christmas Eve in Japan is a day for couples, hyped up as an opportunity for romantic miracles.

The pressure is high for young Japanese men and women to not only secure a date for Christmas Eve, but also to make it a magical experience they’re unlikely to forget. An invitation to be together on Christmas Eve has deeply romantic connotations and young couples are out to impress.

The big day itself involves present giving, to close friends and romantic partners, of ‘cute’ gifts, such as cuddly animals, flowers, scarves, rings and jewellery. Shop window displays are full of teddy bears and decorative gifts to tempt shoppers buying for their loved ones.

Couples will seek out romantic locations to spend time together, though they are often busy with other loving couples. They may take walks to see the spectacular Christmas illuminations. Lights shows such as the one at Yoichi distillery appear all over Japan towards the end of the year. Some couples choose to visit Disneyland, and the bay area of Yokohama is another popular destination for loved-up Christmas couples. The festive atmosphere in city centres is high, with popular Christmas carols being sung in English everywhere you go.

Top range restaurants will book up early in advance of Christmas eve, as young people seek to impress with fine food and drink. Christmas cake in Japan is not the rich fruit cake eaten in the West, but a sponge cake made with strawberries and whipped cream, often adorned with trees, flowers and a figure of Santa Claus himself. Older couples may splash out by seeing a show together, as many hotels host dinner shows featuring high profile entertainers, singers, actors and actresses.

Though perhaps an uncommon choice, Japanese whisky is a sophisticated drinking choice with which to impress a loved one. We recommend these Yamazaki 12 year old and Yamazaki 18 year old gift sets, as they come with a pair of matching glasses to share with your loved one, or this lovely Suntory sampler pack gift set if you’re spending the day with friends . If your date is not a whisky drinker, we’ve put together a list of Japanese alternatives to whisky.

Even if your Christmas Eve is reserved for time with family, it doesn’t mean you can’t inject your festive season with some Japanese romantic spirit. We recommend surprising your date with a day of romance and festivities in the lead-up to Christmas – with good food, walks to see Christmas lights, and fine Japanese whisky.