Japanese Christmas Culture Shock and the Ideal Holi-Date
Illuminations, Fried Chicken and Sexy Mrs Claus
Fried chicken and strawberry shortcake after working all day—welcome to a typical Christmas Eve date in Japan!
The actual meaning of Christmas in Japan is rather hard to explain. Being a non-Christian nation, Christmas is not celebrated as a religious or even family-based event here and it’s not even a holiday. Most companies and some schools will stay open until the last possible moment of the year, an oft-lamented fact that non-Japanese (myself included) find impossible to accept.
But if it’s not a holiday and it’s not a family or child-focused event, then what is it? Well, for many of the younger Japanese, Christmas is seen as more of a romantic holiday, like the precursor to Valentine’s. And being such, you may as well experience (and enjoy) a typical Christmas date, so here are a few tips for where to start and what to expect.
Beware of “quarter men”
For those using Tinder or other dating apps, you might find a sudden surge in the number of likes and message requests that you receive in the weeks leading up to Christmas. While this is certainly a boost to the ego, be wary of any guys that send a formulaic message—or you might find yourself chatting and making plans with a “quarter man”.
For many of the younger Japanese, Christmas is seen as more of a romantic holiday, like the precursor to Valentine’s.
Quarter men are the guys that want a girlfriend around major holidays but only when it’s convenient for them. Simply, they only date for a fixed period of three months—or one quarter hence the name—then it’s goodbye. Summer flings fall into this category as well—lovely for three months but gone as soon as the weather changes. The ones that start out in December are looking for someone to keep around from Christmas to Valentine’s Day—then come February 15th and you might find yourself single, which is really unfair considering March 14th is White Day, a commercial holiday many guys choose to ignore.
The ideal Christmas date
My ex-fiancé once planned out in great detail what the ideal Christmas date was for the Japanese, and I’m going to break it down into its respective parts for you here.
Shopping and sightseeing
Department stores have massive Christmas trees, impressive displays and lots of seasonal activities and music to really get you in the festive mood, and many might have already started their pre-New Year sales.
A stop at a pop-up ice skating rink
Shopping plazas often have large, winter-only ice skating rinks in their central plazas, with skate rentals and rest areas. Futakotamagawa Rise, the Red Brick Warehouse in Yokohama, Tokyo Midtown and Tokyo Skytree are just some of the places with these temporary rinks.
A romantic lunch and dinner
This step applies more to couples with income to spare but many coupon-clippers also like to splash out on a fancy hotel buffet, course dinner or dessert and champagne “snack” in an expensive restaurant this time of year. The only problem of course is that many places require reservations far, far in advance—some with two-year-long waiting lists!
A stroll through the city’s illuminations
Shopping plazas, parks and gardens, brand-name shops, stations and shopping streets go all out when it comes to winter illuminations. These brilliant displays of light are like the winter equivalent of fireworks—one of my friends believes that it’s just not Christmas without a trip to see the lights. These lights are often left up from November to February.
Fried chicken and strawberry shortcakes
Fried chicken, particularly the Kentucky Fried Chicken type, is Japan’s version of a Christmas turkey or goose. Most Japanese ovens are just not equipped to cook a turkey, and even if they could, you often can’t fit a whole turkey inside it in the first place.
For Japan, Christmas cake means strawberry shortcake; plain white cake, white whipped cream icing and real strawberries on top. In the early 1900s, strawberry shortcake was introduced to Japan from America by Rinemon Fujii, the baker behind what later became the Fujiya Co. Ltd, and quickly became a fairly high-class dessert (whipped cream and strawberries were very expensive at the time). In 1922, the Fujiya company began producing these cakes in greater numbers, other bakeries took notice and the strawberry shortcake became Japan’s Christmas cake of choice.
So it’s time to exchange Christmas gifts. From my experience, there are standard gifts almost expected; a tie, warm scarf or nice gloves for him and some form of jewelry or beauty products for her—all expertly wrapped, of course. These gifts may have been purchased in advance or while you were out shopping together, although some may like a surprise gift exchange instead.
Off to bed
You may have noticed that the above date doesn’t necessarily have to take place at home. While many couples do celebrate with their own tree and in the comforts of their own home, some prefer to stay at a hotel of some denomination—ryokan (Japanese inn), luxury hotel or even a nice love hotel—for Christmas. This is the reason why:
Naughty Mrs. Claus, Christmas maid or even elf cosplay. If you don’t believe me, just walk into your nearest Don Quixote or lingerie store and look at their seasonal display. Some (not all) Japanese men want to see their lady in red lingerie with a skimpy white fur-trimmed apron or cuffs on—one shop a few years back even sold a set with a jingling collar.
Christmas culture shock
Like many other non-Japanese women in this country, for me, Christmas means family and friends, comfortable sweaters, Rudolph or The Snowman on television, presents and maybe some spiked egg nog. That sort of Hollywood-infused Christmas date described above might even be considered cheesy by even the kindest film critics, not to mention expensive and drawn out. But it is a part of the culture and something that you should get to experience at least once, so if you are seeing someone special, have a prospective partner in mind or even a group of single friends that want to know what all the fuss is about, why not plan a night like this yourself?
Have a joyous, lovely Christmas!