The significance of Christmas in Japan

The Christian population in Japan is by no means large, but Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have been celebrated by the Japanese for many, many years. Cosme de Torres, a Catholic missionary in Yamaguchi City of Yamaguchi Prefecture is said to have been the first to hold a Christmas Mass for the Japanese in 1552. While the Edo Period was a time when Christianity was persecuted, the celebration of Christmas has become a tradition since around the time Meiji-ya opened its Ginza location in the Meiji Period.

In the late 1980’s during the economic bubble years, the celebration of Christmas was much more lavish. It is said that 4-star and 5-star luxury hotels would be so popular with couples spending the night, that reservations were necessary a year in advance. Nowadays the younger generation does not place as much emphasis on the holiday, but when December comes around, Tokyo is covered with bright decorations and Christmas cheer can be felt in the air.

Although not as prominent as in New York, the holiday season is one of the best selling seasons for apparel and jewelry brands. The week before Christmas Eve is especially busy, with various events adding excitement around the holidays. At the major boutique retailer Beams, a special event is held where winners are drawn to receive gifts mailed from the retailers very own “Beams Santa”.

Omotesando illumination made a comeback in 2014 and has now become a seasonal highlight in Tokyo. The zelkova trees that line-up the 1.1 kilometers between the Meiji Jingu entrance and Aoyama-dori are covered with 500,000 champagne-gold LED lights. The trend of winter illuminations has spread across Tokyo such as Yurakuchō/Ootemachi’s Marunouchi Illumination, Yoyogi Park’s blue Aonodōkutsu Shibuya and the pink lights that line-up along Meguro river resembling winter cherry blossoms to name a few.

Christmas markets, a traditional European festivity, has also become more common in the last 10 years. The Tokyo Christmas Market 2016 is held December 16-25 in Hibiya Park where a 14 meter Christmas pyramid, the events main symbol, was shipped in from Seifen, Germany. At the market, one can find everything from Christmas ornaments to wine and sweets. The Christmas market at Yokohama’s Red Brick Warehouse is covered with white and silver decorations to resemble snow-filled Christmas markets in Germany.

One thing that the Japanese have been said to be good at is editing ideas and recreating them, and it seems that is how we have come to find so many ways to enjoy Christmas. For visitors from western countries, a holiday season spent in Japan is surely to become a new and memorable experience.

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