I studied abroad in Japan during the fall semester of my junior year, and while I left right before Christmas, I was still able to hang out with friends and noticed differences in how Japan celebrated the holidays compared to the US. While I’d expected there to be differences in how the holidays are celebrated in Japan compared to the US, it still came as a surprise how different things actually were. Christmas is in no way a religious holiday in Japan, and neither is it a national holiday, so you’ll find a lot of businesses and restaurants open on Christmas and Christmas Eve. Whereas Christmas is marketed more as a family-centered holiday here in America, in Japan it is an important romantic day for couples, almost as much as Valentine’s Day.
Many people go out to dinner and spend time with their boyfriends/ girlfriends, and instead of a turkey or ham dinner that you’d commonly see here in America, it’s a rather common tradition to eat “chicken dinners” such as KFC on Christmas. In fact, instead of cooking a big meal for the students on Christmas, my university bought KFC for all the students sticking around for the break. For many, Christmas Eve is actually more important than Christmas day itself, because that’s when many couples dress up and go for a night out. The exchanging of gifts is also quite different in Japan. Instead of the whole family receiving gifts, maybe one or two will be exchanged for the kids. As you get older, however, it’s mainly couples that exchange gifts. It was kind of hard to wrap my head around because I’ve always thought of Christmas as a family oriented holiday, but it’s hard to compare because Christmas in Japan is really its own holiday. While there are so many differences, from the way that it is marketed as a couple’s holiday to the fact that Japan has its own set of Christmas traditions, the practices of gift-giving and spending time with loved ones is still the same!
Jillian is a senior at the University of Kentucky majoring in International Studies, focusing on the culture and arts of Asia. In the fall of 2015 she studied abroad at Akita International University in Akita, Japan.