A Guide to Spending Christmas in Japan
If you find yourself spending Christmas in Japan, don't worry, the country fully embraces the festive season. Use our guide to find out where to head, where to shop and where to eat over Christmas.
Decided to spend Christmas in Japan? Although not a traditional holiday, Japan celebrates the festive season in style. After a brief look at Japanese Christmas traditions, we’ll take a look at the best places to spend the holidays, where to shop for the perfect gifts and best of all, where to find the best Christmas food in the country.
Christmas in Japan
The idea of Christmas has only really caught on in Japan over the past couple of decades. Although devoid of religious significance, the popular western symbols of Christmas are still common (Santa, snow, reindeer, etc.) and customs like Christmas cards and gift-giving are popular. In Japan, Christmas is thus largely a commercial affair. However, for many, it is viewed as a romantic holiday akin to Valentine’s Day. On Christmas Eve especially couples will make a special effort to go out on romantic dates and exchange gifts.
The holiday season begins in Japan on the December 23rd, a national holiday celebrating the Emperor’s birthday. However, Christmas Day itself is not a national holiday in Japan, with businesses open and transportation running as usual. Over the Christmas period, families will enjoy special meals, often featuring traditional biscuit, cream and strawberry Christmas cake. Another widely popular meal is, surprisingly, KFC. A 1974 KFC Christmas advertising campaign seemingly did its job very effectively in Japan, creating the tradition out of nowhere. Queues around the block can be witnessed at some KFC branches, everyone eager to get their hands on one of the special KFC Christmas boxes.
Where to Spend Christmas in Japan
Wherever you are in Japan for Christmas you’re guaranteed a good, or at least an original, time. Yamaguchi, Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto and Osaka are particularly festive cities, however, so we’ve taken a quick look at them below.
For a full overview of winter in Japan, check out our guide.
In 1552, the small city of Yamaguchi was host to Japan’s first Christmas celebrations initiated by a visiting Jesuit missionary. In 2009, Yamaguchi City was given the official title of “Christmas City”. Each year, living up to its name, the city is beautifully lit up with illuminations, adorned with Christmas trees and decorations appear all over. Despite being burnt down in 1991, the city’s Yamaguchi Xavier Memorial Church was re-built in 1998 and is the best place to head for Christmas services.
The Japanese capital does Christmas very well, with a whole range of illuminations, events and other Christmas related activities.
Read all about it in our guide to Christmas in Tokyo.
Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan, is also great during the Christmas period. The main attraction is the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse Christmas Market, a traditional German-style Christmas market selling everything from ornaments and trinkets to Christmas trees and gifts. Running from November 26th until Christmas tree, get yourself there to get your fill of Christmas spirit.
Osaka also fully embraces Christmas. The city’s winter illuminations bathe the streets in beautifully twinkling lights, Osaka Zoo open’s its own “Christmas Village” and shopping options proliferate.
Everything you need to know can be found in out guide to winter in Osaka.
Japan’s most traditional city is another spellbinding place to spend Christmas. Kyoto’s beautifully traditional streets and districts provide a uniquely Japanese Christmas experience.
Let our guide to winter in Kyoto show you around.
Christmas Shopping in Japan
There are two gift-giving periods in Japan, chugen in the summer and oseibo in the winter. Similar to Christmas, gifts are given to friends and family or to those you want to thank. Unlike in the west, the gifts are largely symbolic, such things as fruit being popular items to give.
However, this is not to say buying more conventional Christmas gifts in Japan will be a problem. In fact, the country is a shopping haven. Below, we’ve got a rundown of some of the best shopping spots in Japan (largely in Tokyo), where picking up your Christmas shopping, or some nice oseibo gifts, should be a breeze.
The VenusFort shopping mall in Odaiba, a man-made island off Tokyo bay is an impressive shopping mall packed with stores of every kind. Its mock-Venetian interior makes the shopping experience more enjoyable than most, and with a huge New Year sale kicking off on January 2nd, it may just be the place to bag some post-Christmas bargains.
Address: 1-3-15 Aomi, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Access: Tokyo Teleport Station, Aomi Station
Hours: 11:00 – 21:00
Takashimaya Times Square, Shinjuku
Right next to Shinjuku Station, Takashimaya Times Square is one of the largest in Tokyo. Spread over 12 floors, find here everything from exclusive international brands and everyday chain stores to restaurants and even a dental clinic. The New Year sales begin on the 2nd of January.
Address: 5-24-2, Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Access: Shinjuku Station
Hours: 10:00 – 20:00
Don Quijote is a chain of discount shops with stores across Japan. Famed for their breadth of stock and super low prices, Don Quijote is a great place to pick up basics, as well as things like electronics and even food and drink. The prices drop even further in the new year, with sales beginning on January 2nd. Find below details on the Roppongi branch.
Address: 3-14-10, Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Access: Roppongi Station
Hours: 24 hours
Lala Port, Yokohama
One of the biggest malls in Yokohama, Lala Port is another great place to pick up all those Christmas gifts. Like elsewhere, sales begin on the 2nd of January.
Address: 4035-1, Ikonobecho, Tsuzuki-ku, Yokohama
Access: Kamoi Station (12 minute walk from the station)
Hours: 10:00 – 21:00
Osaka Station City, Osaka
Osaka Station City is the cities best place to pick up your Christmas shopping. Bedecked with decorations and lights, the mall encompasses the whole area around the station, turning it into a mini village of shops, restaurants and cafes. The sales begin on the 2nd of January.
Address: 3-1-3 Osaka Station, Osaka
Access: Osaka Station
Hours: 10:00 – 20:00
Christmas Food in Japan
If you don’t fancy a bowl of ramen or sushi on Christmas Day, luckily, Japan does have some options for some great traditional Christmas food. We’ve got some good options below.
Ranked as one of Tokyo’s top restaurants, having even gotten the nod from the Michelin guide, Quintessence is the number one choice for a high-end Christmas meal. Serving a french-infused Christmas dinner using only the best ingredients, you won’t leave disappointed. The restaurant also stocks a good selection of wine, boasts a stylish interior and the service is impeccable.
Address: 41-0001 Shinagawa-Ku Kitashinagawa 6-7-29 Garden City Shinagawa Gotenyama 1F
Access: Osaki Station (13-minute walk), Kita-Shinagawa (16-minute walk)
Business hours: 12:00 – 23:00
The Westin, Osaka
If you find yourself in Osaka over the Christmas period, the Westin Hotel serves up one of the best Christmas Dinners in the city. On offer from the 22nd to the 25th of December, it’s for a limited time only, so act fast.
Address: 1-1-20, Oyodonaka, Kita-ku, Osaka-shi (the Shin Umeda City)
Access: Osaka Station (7-minute walk)
Hours: 10:00 – 22:00
Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)
Ok, so probably not exactly what you’re used to, but if you’re in Japan for Christmas you’ve got to see what all of the fuss is about. Christmas boxes come in a variety of sizes and include a variety of different items, some, you’d be unlikely to find at a KFC back home. Try it out!