Guide to Celebrating Christmas in Japan

Christmas in Japan is more of a commercial and romantic holiday than it is a traditional or religious one, like Valentine’s Day. Either way, it is still time for you to spend it with your partner, friends or family. While it doesn’t have the same significance as the Japanese New Year, it still does have its own traditions. You’ll start to see Christmas decorations in stores in November, along with decorated trees in shopping malls. These days Christmas markets have also gained popularity, most notably in Tokyo. 

From eating KFC and seeing beautiful winter illuminations to going to European-inspired Christmas markets, these are all of the most common activities you can do for Christmas in Japan.

History of Christmas in Japan

Christmas found its way to Japan when Portuguese Catholics introduced Christianity to the country in 1549.  The first Christmas mass was held in Yamaguchi prefecture in 1552. These celebrations continued until 1645 when the Tokugawa Shogunate banned the religion. This was changed during the Meiji Restoration when the religion became legal again and the celebration of Christmas resumed.  The first modern Christmas tree appeared in Ginza, around 1910 and was decorated with Japanese ornaments such as small fans and paper lanterns. 

What Japanese People Eat for Christmas in Japan

Why Japanese People Eat KFC During Christmas Food 

Why Japanese People Eat KFC During Christmas  

In Japan, Christmas is largely about store-bought food and the popular choice is roast or fried chicken. One of the most popular places to get chicken is at KFC. It is in such high demand that pre-orders are as early as November. In 2019, sales during this period time reached a record 7.1 billion yen. This tradition started in 1974 and according to KFC Japan, was started by Takeshi Okawara, the manager of the first KFC in Japan. It is said that he overheard a few foreigners in his store lamenting about the lack of turkey in Japan for Christmas. 

 If you miss out on this, there are plenty of choices in convenience stores and supermarkets. The same could be said for any Christmas cakes.

Other fast-food outlets have also tried capitalizing on the Christmas season, such as the pizza industry. In 2016, Dominos Japan made headlines when they attempted to train reindeer to deliver their Christmas orders in Hokkaido. This idea was abandoned when they discovered that reindeer are a little difficult to control. Major pizza outlets such as Domino, Pizza hut and Pizza-la have their own Christmas and winter special toppings, such as roast chicken and vegetables. 

Christmas Cake in Japan

When it comes to dessert, the most popular Christmas food is “Christmas cake”. It is essentially a shortcake, dressed up with seasonal decorations. The Japanese shortcake consists of layers of sponge cake, layered with fresh strawberries and whipped cream and topped with whipped cream frosting. The first Christmas cake was sold in 1910 at Fujiya, a European-style bakery in Yokohama. At that time, it was a fruitcake with dried fruits and liquor covered with sugar and liqueur.  The current style only came about in the late 1950’s and more people were able to enjoy it after the country became more prosperous after World War II. During this period of economic growth, western style cakes became even more popular. 

So while the strawberry shortcake remains the most popular, the Christmas cake market has become quite competitive, with other options including Buche de Noel, a traditional French confectionery. All this can be purchased from department stores, hotels, bakeries, supermarkets and even convenience stores. Just be sure to put your order in early to avoid disappointment! 

Christmas Dinner Courses in Tokyo and Surrounding Areas

If you’re not a fan of fried chicken, there are other options out there for you, don’t worry! Many restaurants and hotels have special Christmas dinner courses, and these are usually popular on dates. A few of them include: 

Christmas Dinner at Grand Hyatt Tokyo 

This year the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, there will be Christmas cakes and bread, Christmas market afternoon tea, and Christmas dinner. Christmas dinner courses, consisting of western to Japanese cuisines, will be available at restaurants and bars during the Christmas period.

Ana Intercontinental 

They’re offering a Christmas and New Year premium buffet; this comes with options for champagne free flow, wine free flow or soft drink free slow (90 minutes). You can see a sample menu here. This is available 24 – 25 December, and 31 December – 3 January 2023. 

Lunch: 6,125 yen, Children 3108 yen 
Dinner:  11,809 yen, Children 5,904 yen. 

Shooters Sports Bar & Grill in Nagoya

This has been a place for ex-pats to celebrate Christmas in Nagoya for over 20 years. Every year, they offer a seasonal holiday dinner plate (with all the trimmings). Along with their eat-in dinner plate, they also offer fully-cooked roast dinners for takeout.  

Christmas Illuminations in Japan

Christmas Illuminations in Japan

Winter illuminations around Christmas and New Year have become a popular part of the holiday period in Japan. The illuminations are usually displayed between November and December but there are some that run longer. The first light show in Japan was Kobe’s Luminarie, which was held to commemorate the victims of the Kobe earthquake in 1995. 

Illuminations in Tokyo 

Due to the pandemic, many big winter illumination events have been canceled, such as the Caretta Illumination. However, there are still other ways you can enjoy beautiful lights. You can check some of these beautiful street illuminations in a separate article here

Tokyo Midtown 

Tokyo Midtown is a complex located in Roppongi and is home to hotels, offices, fancy restaurants, and shops. Every year there is a different theme and this year’s theme is “Christmas Story Lights” which will consist of a giant dome with 300 lights. Besides the lights, there is also an outdoor ice skating rink. 

Access: Direct access from Roppongi Station exit 8 
Hours: 17:00 – 21:00 

Marunouchi Illumination 

Each year the trees along Marunochi’s Nakadori Avenue are covered with 1.2 million fairy lights. The lights will be on from 3 pm to 11 pm (until 12 midnight in December) every day until February. 

Access: A short walk from Tokyo Station Marunouchi exit. 
Hours: 15:00 – 23:00 

Shinjuku Southern Terrace Winter Illumination 

The illumination includes the entire Shinjuku South exit area, including Takashimaya Times Square, Shinjuku Southern Terrace and Suica’s Penguin Square, lit up by approximately 170,000 LED lights. At the Suica Penguin Plaza, there will also be snow globe-shaped houses and Suica penguin statues. 

Access: A short walk from Shinjuku Station’s south exit  
Hours: 16:30 – 24:00 

Shibuya Blue Cave Illumination 

Set initially in Nakameguro in 2014, the Blue Cave is now a Shibuya highlight each year. This year will consist of around 600,00 LEDs stretching between Shibuya Koen Dori and Yoyogi Park. This event will be from the 8th of December to the 25th of December.  

Access: 1-minute walk from Shibuya Station. 

Hours: 17:00 – 22:00 

Tokyo Mega Illumination 

The large-scale event at Oi Racecourse, consisting of over 8 million bulbs, will be returning for the fifth year. The event will be taking place from October 15, 2022 to January 9, 2023. The venue will be divided into two main areas: The Twinkle Area and the Japanese Glitter Area. The Twinkle Tunnel is a light tunnel, covered in full-color LED lights, connecting the two areas.  This year in the Twinkle area, there will also be a collaboration with NAKED, consisting of various AR illuminations.

Unlike other events, this is not a free event and prices will depend on the day and month. 

Access: A 2-minute walk from Oi Kebajo Mae station on the Tokyo Monorail, or a 12-minute walk from Tachiaigawa Station on the Keikyu Line. There are also free buses from Shinagawa Station operating on weekends and public holidays 

Hours: 16:30 – 21:00 

Illuminations in Kanagawa 

Sagamiko 

Held at Sagamiko Resort Pleasure Forest in Sagamihara City, the Sagamiko Illumination is one of the largest events of its kind in the Kanto region, along with Ashikaga Flower Park and Enoshima Jewel Shonan. This event will be back this year with a special collaboration with Sumikko Gurashi and will be held for 6 months from 12 November 2022 to 2 April, 2023. The event area is divided into 10 zones with different themes and different types of illuminations. 

Access: Take the Kanachu Bus from Sagamiko Station and get off at Pleasure Forest Mae stop. 
Hours: 16:00 – 21:00 

Yomiuriland Jewellumination 

The Yomiuriland amusement park is home to one of the largest illumination displays in the Tokyo area. It consists of 5 sections with different colors and themes, lit up by 4 million LEDs. Highlights of this event include the illuminated giant Ferris wheel and the light tunnel decorated in sapphire tones. 

Access: Take either the Keio Line or Odakyu Line from Shinjuku Station. 
Hours: 4:00 pm – 8:30 pm 

Illuminations in Tochigi 

Ashikaga Flower Park 

A popular flower park known for the Great Wisteria Festival in spring is also home to a stunning winter illumination event: “Flower Fantasy- the Garden of Illuminated Flowers”. The event will be held from 15 October 2022 to 14 February 2023 in Tochigi Prefecture and features over 5 million LEDs, with images of various seasonal flower gardens and limited-time illuminations including the Christmas Fantasy and Light & Winter Peony Blooming Show. 

Access: 3-minute walk from Ashikaga Flower Park Station (JR Ryomo Line) 
Hours: 16:30 – 21:00 (21:30 on weekends and holidays) 

Illuminations in Kansai 

Nabana no Sato

One of Mie Prefecture’s most well-known attractions, Nabana no Sato is a giant flower garden known for its variety of flowers and vegetation. In winter, is it transformed with over 8 million LEDs, across 5 different sections, all with different colors and themes. The iconic part of this event is the 200m “tunnel of light”, with over 1.2 million lights across The illumination will be held from 22 October 2022 to 31 May 2023. 

Access: From Nagashima Station, there is a shuttle bus. 
Hours: 15:00 – 23:00

Illuminations in Nagasaki 

Huis Ten Bosch 

A theme park in Nagasaki, Huis Ten Bosch is a recreation of a Dutch town and was built to commemorate the history between Japan and the Netherlands. The illumination event “The Kingdom of Lights” will feature 13 million LEDs. 

Access: Huis Ten Bosch Station 
Hours: 9:00 – 21:00 (the illuminations start from sunset) 

christmas market in tokyo

Christmas Markets in Japan

German-style Christmas markets, particularly in Tokyo, have been popping up everywhere. Decorated with illuminations, Christmas trees, shops selling Christmas goods, and food stalls selling hot food and drinks. 

The Peninsula Tokyo Christmas Market

This market, run by the luxury hotel The Peninsula Tokyo, gives you the chance to try many popular Christmas sweets from around the world including Italian Baci di dama, and British mince pies. This year’s theme is “Home Away from Home” and will feature many family activities, and performances such as the annual Gingerbread House Decorating Class. 

Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse Christmas Market 

Inspired by the German City Nuremberg, this market features several stalls selling many holiday goods such as ornaments, as well as treats such as hot wine, pretzels, sausages and stollen cakes. The market is open until 10 pm between December 10 and 25. 

Other Christmas Events in Japan

Santa Run 

If you’re looking for a different way to spend your holiday season, consider joining the Santa Run. It’s a charity event that originally started in Osaka in 2009 and takes place in Komazawa Olympic Park. Participants can choose between a 4.3 km run or a 2km walk along the jogging course. The fee is 3300 yen (2200 for university students and 1100 for junior high school students and under), and this gets you a handmade Santa costume. The money goes towards gifts for hospitalized children in Japan and children who need medical care overseas. 

FAQs

Is Christmas a popular celebration in Japan? 

While it has no cultural or religious significance, people in Japan celebrate Christmas and use it as a time to get together with their friends and family. Christmas Eve is considered a bigger deal than Christmas day over here. 

Where should I go for Christmas in Tokyo? 

There are a number of illuminations and markets you can visit in Tokyo. The Roppongi and Marunouchi Illumination are among the biggest illuminations, but you can always find them on the streets of Tokyo.

Is there snow at Christmas in Japan?

You can expect to see snow in Hokkaido and the northern parts of Honshu. However, it is very rare to have snow in Tokyo during Christmas.  

Why do Japanese people eat KFC during Christmas in Japan?

40 years ago, KFC Japan’s first manager, Takeshi Okawara, came up with the idea of selling “party bucket” on Christmas after he heard a couple of foreigners talk about how they missed fried chicken at this time of the year.

In 1974, KFC Japan launched a massive national Christmas marketing campaign and proved to be a huge success.

Love what you are reading? Want to learn about Japan and its language?

If you love Japanese culture, why not study Japanese in Japan? Coto School Finder is excited to announce that we’re offering a matching service to help students find a Japanese language school that provides student visas. Contact us for a free support.

If you’re already in Japan, don’t forget to browse courses at Coto Academy (we’re a school too!), and make sure to check our blog for more great content on the Japanese language, culture and life in Japan!


Would you like to study Japanese in Japan?


Realize your dream of moving to Japan and becoming fluent in Japanese.

Move to Japan