July 25, 2024
Sleigh Bells Ring: Christmas In Japan Is A Unique Rendition Of The Candy Cane Festival
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Across the globe, Christmas is synonymous with sky-high Balsam Fir trees flaunting their festive baubles, a mountain of gifts ready to delight, freshly baked gingerbread, and greeting Father Christmas. However, for a Christmas celebration that puts a spin on traditional customs, turn to Japan. Primarily a Shinto and Buddhist country, Japan has minimal religious ties to the festival. With some customs borrowed from the West, and some brewed within the country, Christmas in Japan promises a unique spin on the candy cane festival: one that is laced with gigantic winter illuminations, snow-kissed landscapes, J-Pop Christmas music, and the traditional Japanese Christmas cake (kurisumasu keki).

Celebrations with a twist: Popular Christmas traditions in Japan

christmas in japan
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In Japan, the traditional stuffed turkey, masked potatoes, and cranberry sauce are replaced by sumptuous fried chicken. Conceived in the 1970s, the popular slogan ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ and the widely sold ‘party buckets’ have continued to captivate the masses. Every year, almost 3.6 million Japanese families head to Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) to get their meals. Owing to the high demand, some locals even place orders for the Special Christmas Menu as long as six weeks in advance!

Next, people in Japan swear by their kurisumasu keki, a Christmas cake sold on almost every street corner during the holiday season. This sponge cake filled with whipped cream and topped with strawberries is deemed a sign of prosperity, reflecting Japan’s rise from the ruins of World War II. Additionally, the country revels in hyperbolic illuminations smearing malls, restaurants, and public spaces. Lastly, Japan’s numerous theme parks, including Tokyo Disney Resort and Osaka Universal Studios Japan, transform into winter wonderlands.

Deck the halls, trim the tree: Best places to witness Christmas in Japan

Hokkaido — for a white Christmas

christmas in japan
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Snowball the festive fun at Hokkaido, a literal winter wonderland. Explore the 43rd Sapporo White Illumination (November 22, 2023, to March 14, 2024), featuring scintillating illuminations, Christmas food, and ornaments. Witness unmatched ski landscapes by checking into Sapporo Teine or Sapporo Kokusai Ski Resort. Savour the Hokkaido-special Asahikawa Ramen and Donburi or try ice fishing at the frozen Barato River.

Head to the Shiroi Koibito Park to enjoy the magic of Christmas with your family. Shiroi Koibito, a popular cookie brand, pioneers this chocolate-and-sweets-themed park, which becomes merrier during the holiday season. For a romantic celebration with your beloved, head to the storybook town of Otaru, where the whimsical drizzle of snow, Sakaimachi shopping street, and heartwarming Christmas decorations throughout the township make it an amorous haven.

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Tokyo — Disneyland, Christmas markets, and show-stopping illuminations

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Celebrating Christmas in Tokyo? Indulge in the Christmas-themed rides and festive attractions at Tokyo Disneyland, visit the Midtown Christmas Event (November 16 to December 25, 2023), flaunting illuminations and an ice rink at Tokyo Midtown, and hit up the Roppongi Hills for seasonal illuminations and a buzzing Christmas Market (November 25 to December 25, 2023). The Tokyo Christmas Market (November 23 to December 25, 2023), supported by German Tourism and the German Embassy, brings a slice of Europe to the city and enchants with hot chocolate, beer, live performances, a choir from Germany, handmade decorations, and much more.

For the choicest of winter illuminations, head to Omotesando, Shinjuku, Yomiuriland Jewellumination, and Shibuya Ao no Dokutsu. Other Japanese cities famed for their winter illuminations include Sendai and Tochigi.

Related – These are the most beautiful places to explore in Japan!

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Kobe — German-style Christmas markets, skiing, and ice skating

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The Kobe Christmas itinerary is incomplete without a visit to the Kobe Nunobiki Herb Garden, a botanical garden on the slopes of Mount Rokko ornamented with Christmas decor throughout the holiday season. The garden also hosts the German-style Kobe Christmas Market in Japan (November 11 to December 25, 2023), featuring over 50 stalls with cakes, drinks, and scintillating decor.

Elevate the holiday festivities by ice skating at Port Island, skiing in the Rokko mountains, and attending the Kobe Luminarie (January 19 to January 28, 2024), an annual light festival that pays homage to the victims of the Great Hanshin earthquake.

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Shirakawago — Winter Light-Up Festival 2023

shirakawago winter light up festival
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Tip-toe over Shirakawago’s fleecy blanket of snow for a dreamy Christmas. The quaint village is home to Gassho-zukuri (hands in prayer) style farmhouses, which get covered in layers of snow during the white season. The locals elevate this beautiful scenery by organising illumination events on select Sunday evenings in January and February, painting an otherworldly landscape (picture snow-kissed farmhouses, revelling in the warm glow of candles). Check out the illumination calendar for 2024 here.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Shirakawago region of Japan is festooned with souvenir shops, shrines, cafes, and guesthouses where visitors can stay. If you fancy a meal at a traditional gassho-zukuri farmhouse restaurant, dine at Irori. Also sample Japanese street food dishes like Hida gyu korokke (or Japanese Croquette), gohei mochi, and smokey sausage.

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Book your stay at River Retreat Garaku via Agoda.com

Osaka — Festival of the Lights 2023 and twinkling winter markets

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Visit Osaka for some of the most surreal winter markets in Japan. Begin with the Osaka Christmas Market 2023 (December 1 to December 25), offering Glühwein (spiced hot wine), hot cocoa, creative workshops, and Christmas goodies, including nutcrackers and handicrafts, imported directly from Germany. Don’t miss the Hanging Garden Xmas 2023 (November 23 to December 25), a white Christmas wonderland, and the Hanshin Christmas Market 2023 (November 8 to December 25).

Other attractions include the Festival of the Lights (November 3 to December 31 at the Midosuji Illumination 2023, and December 14 to December 25 at the OSAKA Light Renaissance 2023), the Wonder Night Hill event (October 28, 2023, to January 28, 2024), and Osaka Castle Illuminage (November 22, 2023, to February 25, 2024).

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Related – Must-visit winter destinations to experience the best of winter in Japan

Nagoya — holiday dining traditions, walking tours, and dazzling winter markets

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Warm glimmering lights envelope Nagoya during the holiday season. Whether it is the Great Nagoya Christmas Illumination (November 8 to December 25), celebrating the theme of a champagne gold Christmas, or the Hirokoji Avenue Illumination (October 28, 2023, to mid-January, 2024), fairy-tale sights are guaranteed.

Explore the Isogai Xmas Hanabi Fireworks (December 23, 2023), and the Nagoya Christmas Market in Japan (December 3 to December 25), offering live performances, German fare, cake, mulled wine, and handcrafted Christmas gifts. Add a dash of thrill to the merry-making by heading to the Toyota Gosei Iceless Skating Rink, open from December 9, 2023 to March 17, 2024.

Also read – 25 Most beautiful places to visit in Japan [Evergreen Tourist Destinations in Japan]

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Nagasaki — Kingdom of Lights

nagasaki christmas
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The Dutch-themed amusement park, Huis Ten Bosch (House in the Forest), is among Japan’s best-themed parks to visit during Christmas. Be it seasonal illuminations, horse-drawn carriages, Japan’s first three-story merry-go-round towing 15 metres into the sky, or the Christmas version of Kingdom of Lights featuring 13 million balls of lights, this park is sure to impress. Visitors can also opt for a cruise around Nagasaki Bay, sprinkled with islands and iconic landmarks.

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Best places for Christmas shopping in Japan

Let’s face it, Christmas is synonymous with gifting. Whether you’re indulging yourself with a little hamper of TLC, or picking gifts for your loved ones, retail therapy is a given. Japan simplifies this task with its festive offerings, particularly in Tokyo. For retro marvels and literary gems, there’s no better place than Jimbocho. Here, you’ll find traditional coffee houses, and vintage-esque shops selling books, old parchments, themed stationery, posters, and other Pinterest-y treats.

christmas in japan
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If you fancy thrift shopping, vintage goods, and independent clothing shops, head to Jingumae. For the best deals and discounts on holiday season gifting, we recommend Aeon Mall, Tokyo Solamachi, Diver City Tokyo Plaza, and Caretta Shiodome. Conclude your shopping spree on a sweet note, by heading to Jiyugaoka for the choicest of patisseries and confectioneries.

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Related: Discover The Magic: Must-Visit Christmas Markets Around The World In 2023

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

– What are the best foods to try during Japanese Christmas celebrations?
The best food items to sample during Christmas celebrations in Japan include the traditional Christmas cake (kurisumasu keki), Kentucky Fried Chicken, potato salad and cream stew.

– Can I find Christmas decorations and themed items in Japan?
For Christmas celebration decorations and themed items in Japan, head to the various Christmas Markets sprinkled across the country. We recommend the Tokyo Christmas Market (November 23 to December 25, 2023), Nagoya Christmas Market (December 3 to December 25, 2023), Hanshin Christmas Market 2023 (November 8 to December 25, 2023), and Osaka Christmas Market 2023 (December 1 to December 25, 2023), among others.

– Are there any unique Christmas events or festivals in Japan?
Japan delights with surreal winter illuminations hosted across the country, such as Midtown Christmas Event (November 16 to December 25, 2023), Sapporo White Illumination (November 22, 2023 to March 14, 2024), the Great Nagoya Christmas Illumination (November 8 to December 25, 2023), and the Hirokoji Avenue Illumination (October 28, 2023 to mid-January, 2024), among others. Additionally, Japan organises Christmas markets, skating rinks, and festive workshops to elevate the celebrations.

Written By

Yashita Vashishth

Yashita Vashishth

Writer by day, reader by night, Yashita has a flair for all things travel, wellness and food. She has previously worked at Condé Nast India and Times Internet. When not working, you can catch her binge-reading the latest thriller on the block, re-watching Friends, trying a new recipe or hosting her friends.


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