Christmas was introduced to Japan with the arrival of the first Europeans in the 16th century. However, only in recent decades has it become a popular celebration in Japan, even though the Christian population constitutes only 1 or 2 percent of the population.
Although Christmas is not a national day in Japan, more and more people have adopted traditions such as decorating their home, giving gifts to friends, and celebrating with a special dinner. However, if it does not fall on the weekend, people have to go to work or school as on any other day. In a survey among the Japanese population, 54% responded that Christmas represents something important to them, especially in the female population and adolescents.
Christmas in Japan really is a commercial event where corporations do most of the decorating, lighting their buildings and putting up Christmas trees. You can also see decorations in stores and shopping centers. Some venues even have seasonal lights. Illuminations during Christmas are an attraction in big cities. These run around December through New Years in Japan, and some last until Valentine’s Day. Among the most popular is the lighting in Kobe, which began after a disaster that occurred in 1995. A tunnel of light was created with millions of lights.
Something typical of Christmas in Japan is eating cake. A wide variety of cakes can be found this season. Christmas Eve is also a good day to spend with your partner and go to a special restaurant or go to the movies. In addition, the Christmas celebration is usually accompanied by other festivities such as the Bounenkai, farewell parties of the year, and with the New Year celebrations in Japan.
He bounenkai (忘年 会, Party to forget the year) is a celebration in which people gather to drink and forget the bad things that happened during the year to start from scratch. Posters advertising this celebration can be seen in many university offices and clubs. They usually have a fixed cost and you can eat and drink whatever you want (as an additional note, during these festivities it is common to see people sleeping in public spaces).
Finally, there are the end of the year or new year celebrations. The first of them is him Oomisoka (大 晦 日, Great last day). Actually this event is more celebrated than Christmas, and takes place on the night of New Year’s Eve until New Year’s Day (which is January 3 or 4).
On this date, an activity is not so fun but very Japanese: the oosouji(which literally means great cleaning). Members of the family, school or company carry out a general cleaning of the house, school or office. Windows, railings, doors, kitchen, bathrooms and rooms… everything is washed and cleaned to welcome in the new year. This is done a few days before December 31st.
On this day letters are usually written by hand that are sent to relatives or friends to arrive on January 1st. It is also usually eaten called soba noodles Toshiki soba. At oomisoka luck, fortune and longevity are required, and as the soba It is easy to chew, it is said that it helps to forget the problems that were had during the year.
A few hours before the end of the year you can hear the bells of the temples, and gongs in the Buddhist temples. In total the bells must be rung 108 times. This number comes from Buddhism, where man is said to have 108 earthly desires, so a chime is rung to get rid of each wish. They are tolled 107 times on December 31st and the last bell rings on January 1st.
Finally, there is the shougatsu (正月, New Year in Japan). The first day of the year is considered a sacred day, which is why it is a national day (unlike Christmas, this day does rest). The 1st of January is called gantan (元旦) People wish each other a happy year saying akemashite omedetou gozaimasu (明 け ま し て お め で と う ご ざ い ま す). This day special dishes called osechi ryouri, and each dish has a different meaning. For example, shrimp signifies longevity, herring roe fertility, and so on. You also eat mochi (rice cakes).
Children are often given money in an envelope. This is called otoshidama (お 年 玉). It is also customary to visit a temple during the first days of the year. The first visit of the year is called hatsumode. The most popular temples in Japan are crowded, to the extent that some receive millions of visitors. The entrances of the houses are decorated with kadomatsu, ornaments made with bamboo that welcome you to the kamis of the harvest.
Businesses in Japan close on December 29 or 30 and resume activities on January 3 or 4. However, in recent years you can find restaurants, shops and supermarkets open these days. Some stores offer special discounts.