Sunday 20 December 2015

Meri Kurisumasu! Celebrating Christmas in Japan ...

We recently had the delightful Maho stay with us -  a 17yr old from Japan through our daughter's school exchange program - and we thought we'd introduce her to the rituals and routines of an English Christmas.

So picture our surprise to discover that, although barely 1% of Japan's population is Christian, Maho was all clued up on Christmas. Oh yes, she decorated trees, put up fairy lights, ate chicken and loved Christmas cake. Christmas was big in Japan.

Hang on. Ate chicken?

Christmas Dinner, KFC Style
After a bit of research, it appears that the Japanese throw themselves into the festivity as eagerly as any Westerner - but it's the differences that are fascinating.

Shorn of any real religious meaning (apparently, among the younger generations, there's a little confusion as to whose birthday it is - Jesus? Santa?) - Christmas in Japan is undiluted commercialism. 

Mix in a little bit of Valentine's and its becomes the 'how much can you spend on your girlfriend?' festival, and woe betide any man who doesn't spend enough.

Like any good festival, Christmas in Japan also comes with 'special foods', and it appears that, yet again, the American fast food corporations have pulled a fast one. We're all aware how the classic Santa - white beard, red and white clothes, weight issues - is an invention of Coca-cola; well in Japan, it was an opportunity for KFC to get into the Christmas re-appropriation act.

Okay, I kinda see it. The logo is also red and white. Colonel Saunders has a white beard. Chicken is a bit like turkey (a rarity in Japan anyway). KFC definitely saw it, and didn't hesitate to run with it either, with a long series of campaigns telling the Japanese that the rest of world ate KFC on Christmas day - and so should they. Order your Christmas buckets here!

Christmas Cake!
And of course, there's also Christmas cake. More even than KFC, this is the one to cause cultural cross-confusion, especially between travellers to and from the West.

 The US has no tradition of Christmas cake, and are mystified when told that it's an essential part of Christmas by the Japanese.

The English think they understand - but our traditional heavy iced fruit cake is completely alien in the East. A Japanese Christmas cake is a light and fluffy creation of sponge, cream and strawberries.

All I can think of is that the red and white evokes Christmas.

We're sticking with our routines this year - no KFC bucket, no sponge cakes (but probably just as many expensive gifts from Santa-san). But we wish Maho - and everyone else - a Meri Kurisumasu!