It’s Christmas in Japan, but not as you know it (if you come from a Western country, that is). As Setsuko Kamiya explained in an FYI column way back, while you will find seasonal illuminations and hear cheesy festive tunes, you won’t see much of baby Jesus, as the festival here is pretty much a secular thing.
It’s all a far cry from Japan’s first Christmas: The first Noel, the Jesuits in Yamaguchi did say, was a 16th-century celebration in a converted Buddhist temple with midnight hymns, explains Joji Sakurai in a long read from 2016. Familiar Yuletide iconography — Christmas trees, reindeers, mistletoe and the like — was not yet established anywhere in the world, and interestingly, it was Japanese believers that introduced the custom of gift exchanges to the Jesuits.
As for Christmas in Japan in 2020, it’s shaping up to be different to what has gone before, due to the accelerating third wave of the pandemic. Notable trends this year include a shift from eating out to delivery from upscale restaurants, while sales are also up for cakes, pizzas and toys that can entertain the whole family. Hmm, actually sounds a bit more like a regular, stay-home Western-style Christmas.
Speaking of which, on a more personal note, writer William Lang recounts how all his previous Christmases have been all about excess — the more presents and food, the better — but this year, he’s taking a minimalist approach. Well, being strongarmed into taking a minimalist approach is probably closer to the truth. But maybe it’s for the best? Merry Christmas, readers, one and all!