Christmas in Japan

Christmas cake – Different from a UK Christmas cake or American fruitcake, the Japanese style Christmas cake is often a white cream cake, sponge cake frosted with whipped cream, topped with strawberries and with a chocolate plate that says Merry Christmas, though yule logs are also available.

KFC Fried Chicken – With turkey as a dish being virtually unknown in Japan the popularity of this item at Christmas is such that orders are placed as much as two months in advance.
(from Wikipedia ‘A list of Christmas dishes around the world’)

It was 1549 (not recorded though) when the first Christmas was celebrated in Japan, when a Spanish, to be more precise Basque, Jesuit missionary Francisco de Xavier arrived in Japan, while the first ‘historically recorded’ mass of Christmas was hold in 1552 and Christmas was called “Natala”.

Why Natala?? Navidad in Spanish, Natale in Italian, Natal in Portuguese, Natalis in Latin…

But something like that. It’s important not being called as Christmassa!

Anyways, around 1560 a big mass for Christmas was held with more than 100 Japanese Christians in Kyoto and there was also Christmas truce advised by Luís Fróis, a Portuguese missionary. The war between Nobunaga Oda and Hisahide Matsunaga was ceased.

After that in 1612 Christianity was prohibited by Edo government and Japan was chained up, which is no foreigner could enter nor could any Japanese leave the country. This policy remained in effect until 1853 with the arrival of the Black Ships of Commodore Matthew Perry and the forcible opening of Japan to Western trade. So there was no Christmas (legal one) in this period.

After the opening of the gate of Japan, the first Christmas party in Japan was in 1860, which was held at home of the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Prussia.

At that time there were many foreigners sent to Japan to teach European culture and they held Christmas parties with ordinary people.

Around 1880, a store, Maruzen, started to import, for the first time, Christmas gadgets for foreigners who were staying in Japan and in 1881 there was a dance party of Christmas in Grand Hotel in Yokohama for the first time and in 1904 Christmas tree was displayed for commercial reason at Meijiya in Ginza.

This was the beginning of Christmas in Japan.
After Japan won the war against Russia, celebrating Christmas was widespread among the rich in cities and in 1910 Fujiya started to sell Christmas cake for the first time.

Christmas cake of Fujiya

Christmas cake of Fujiya

During the Second World War all the European culture was blocked and after the war Christmas came back.

In 1947, a Christmas boot shaped package of cookies and chocolates started to be sold.

christmas boots

Christmas boots of Fujiya

And it is said that around 1950 Christmas has become popular among normal citizens in Japan. But men used to celebrate Christmas in cabaret (not at home)…

OK. This is a brief history of Christmas in Japan and you may understand that Christmas is not OUR thing, but IMPORTED culture because even after the opening of the gate of Japan the numbers of Christians has not increased so much.

But why non-Christian Japanese celebrate Christmas?

Maybe because for us Christmas represents European and American culture but not a religious event even though we know what Christmas is.

Soon after the opening of the gate of Japan we had to westernize the way of life, otherwise we were thought as being barbarians who were left behind of the world. So I think Christmas used to be one of the western culture which was considered as modern, rich and happy culture that we should have absorbed.

After the World War II I think it was the same. For beaten and poor Japanese, I think Western culture was considered as the happiness and the wealth.

In fact, in 80’s when Japan reaped the benefits of economic development, cities were lighted up and illuminated and people started to go out for dinner in gorgeous restaurants. Couples reserve a suite room of high-grade hotel to spend Christmas eve with whom you love.

Now after the depression of economy the situations has been changed a bit…

Here comes what Wikipedia says, what I quoted…

On TV there were many ads of KFC and convenience stores who sell fried chicken for Christmas. People say since Christmas is not a holiday in Japan we have no time to prepare a big dinner and go and get easy chicken for home party.
Well, I am not in a position where I can judge if this situation is good or bad, but maybe… we don’t have to be obsessed to eat chicken any more on Christmas, because it has no meaning… (After the second world war it was not easy for Americans who were living in Japan then to get turkey for their Christmas dishes and bought chicken as an alternative. This is why chicken in Japan for Christmas… An alternative has become a new culture…)

I wish more people would share the importance of Christmas in Christian countries and more people would learn to care what is important for them even without spending money. Because Christmas is an occasion of love. And love is NOT something that money can buy but something that you should need a tender care for.

Merry Christmas to you all!
にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ
にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語の日記(和英併記)へ

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