Since Christmas is not native to Japan so it was always going to be a commercial event. Just like the UK, Japan gets an annual blizzard of advertising, sales, promotions, and special events. At least they have the decency to start the seasonal campaigns a little later than the first of November.
Most Japanese people think of Christmas as a time to spend with family, but it’s also common for the holiday to be treated as an event for couples, like an extra Valentine’s Day. You definitely don’t want to leave booking your reservations for the last minute if you’re planning on a Christmas Eve dinner during your visit, since you’ll be competing with crowds of young couples, even for a place at KFC.
The Christmases I’ve spent in Japan have mainly been treated like a regular night drinking with friends, just with a festive twist. I can certainly recommend karaoke as a way to feel properly connected to the holiday. Whether you’re out with colleagues or searching for an international karaoke bar, you can be sure that as the nights draw closer to the 25th, the number of cheerful (drunk) revellers shouting the lyrics to classic Christmas songs will increase exponentially.
What happens to the wholesome, gift giving nature of the Winter holiday? Does Saint Nicholas make an appearance (other than on merchandise)? Does he bring gifts to all the good girls and boys…?
Despite the challenging lack of chimneys, Santa-san really does manage to drop into the homes of Japan, and the over-worked bringer of holiday cheer is a popular icon for children. However, this year must be difficult for anyone tasked with entering the homes of everyone in the world, and it seems like a thorough hand washing hasn’t been enough to keep Santa on the road.
For the past 30 years, a fully-fledged Santa Claus has been travelling across Japan, delivering gifts and good will. This professional present provider is officially recognised by the Finnish Santa Claus Foundation, which apparently exists. In any other other year, he would be attending special events across East Asia, but with Finnair jets grounded for the time being (and his sleigh apparently out of order) he’ll be taking the year off for the first time in three decades.
Father Christmas has made it Japan in spirit anyway, although most displays aren’t as unusual as the annual Christmas display at Uroko House recently making headlines. This year their annual Styrofoam sculpture features Santa alongside tennis star Naomi Osaka, a character recognisable as Tanjiro Kamado of Demon Slayer, and Amabie, a Youkai who protects Japan from illness. The friendly message beneath reads: Merry Chrismask!
My personal favourite appearance of Santa happens each year at Tokyo Aquarium, and I’m hoping it might escape Covid-19 restrictions this year, continuing a traditional already over two decades long. It’s simple and only barely related to Santa’s job description, but each year divers dressed up and Saint Nick and his accompanying reindeer drop in to bring the fish at the aquarium the greatest gifts of all: vegetables and shrimp. Thankfully, this is one wholesome visit from Santa Claus that shouldn’t be affected by the problems of 2020.
Image sources: Wikicommons