Travel, Teach, Live in Japan
Christmas is not celebrated like it is in the west. Christmas is seen more as a commercial event particularly embraced and encouraged by merchants. In Japan Christmas is mainly about gift giving and romance! The major religion in Japan is Buddhism and Shinto with only 1 per cent of Japanese people being of a Christian faith or belief. Hence most Japanese people are unaware of Christmas religious roots and customs. Even among the Christian Japanese, Christmas is not a day for the family like it is in America and Europe. There is no traditional meal or plum pudding instead it is a day spent giving to others especially doing nice things for those that are sick in hospitals.
However it is common in Japan to give Christmas presents. The main celebration in Japan revolves around Christmas eve and not Christmas day. Presents are given to children but children do not give presents back to their parents. The idea is that only Santa brings presents so once you no longer believe no presents are given!
In Japan Hoteiosho is a priest or a God who closely resembles our Santa Claus. Hoteiosho is depicted as a kind old man carrying a huge pack in which he brings presents to local houses for the children. Children think he has eyes in the back of his head, so they behave at their best in case he is nearby.
The Christian faith was first introduced into Japan in the sixteenth century by Jesuit and later by Franciscan missionaries. Even though few in Japan are Christian or have an understanding of traditional Christmas customs, in a survey conducted by www.japan-guide.com among young Japanese people, a majority of 54 percent responded that Christmas today means something special to them, with women and teenagers showing a particular attraction.
In another survey done by www.japan-guide.com 74 percent of people responded to celebrate Christmas in Japan with a Christmas cake. Their Christmas cake is usually made of sponge cake, strawberries and whipped cream or just as popular is a strawberry gateau.
Most people decorate their shops and homes with evergreens during the Christmas period. Japanese families have a small evergreen tree in their home which may be mistaken for a Christmas tree yet it is actually a traditional Japanese religious decoration for the new year. New year's day is the most important day of the whole calendar in Japan. However artificial Christmas trees are now appearing in shops but not yet popular. People are also placing lights on the outside of houses for decoration while shops are keenly seen to be glowing with decorations and particularly lights.
While we in the west are following traditional Christmas customs in December, in Japan they are preparing for their most celebrated day of the year