wtf-japan-top

What? It’s just a knife to cut the traditional Christmas cake!

Ho ho ho, it’s that time of year! Nothing quite says Christmas like breaking out the eggnog and stockings and warm pies from the oven.

…unless you live in Japan. Unlike many countries where Christmas has been part of the religion and culture for hundreds of years, Japan has imported the holiday only fairly recently. That means they’ve put their own spin on things, some of which are quite familiar, and others not so much.

That’s why today we’re counting down the top five strangest things Japanese people do for Christmas. If the global popularity of Japanese culture is any indication of things to come, then perhaps some of these traditions will eventually work their way out of Japan and to the rest of the world.

So let’s get to it! Starting off with…

Honorable Mention: “Creeper” parties

wtf-christmas-3PAKUTASO

Okay, so this one is totally just from my personal experience, but it’s too funny not to include.

When I lived in Okinawa, I taught a weekly English class. During one class we were planning on what sort of special event we should have for Christmas. One student made an odd suggestion that I’ll never forget. She said: “We should do a creeper!”

Needless to say I was very confused, so I asked what she meant. Another student explained: “You know, a creeper! A kuripa in Japanese.”

That certainly didn’t help, and it wasn’t until yet another student explained that kuripa is the shortened form of kurisumasu paati (“Christmas party”) that I finally understood and could stop worrying that my students were going to stalk me.

So if you’re in Japan and someone invites you to a “creeper” party around Christmas, don’t worry, they’re not trying to lure you into their den of sin, they just want to invite you to come eat some cookies and such. Any other time of the year though, you probably want to run in the opposite direction.

#5. KFC dinner

This one may be hard for anyone outside of Japan to wrap their brains around, but nothing here says Christmas or Christmas Eve dinner more than a bucket full of Kentucky Friend Chicken.

In the U.S. and many other parts of the world, KFC is seen as fast food, and low-tier fast food at that (you know, above Taco Bell but below Panda Express). But in Japan the branding is completely different. KFC is seen as more of a high-end fast food item, reflected in how expensive it is.

▼ The Christmas special in Japan, running from 3,990 yen to 4,880 yen
(US$35-43), around double what something similar would cost in the U.S.

wtf-christmas-8KFC Japan

Apparently having KFC for Christmas dates back to 1974, when KFC promoted itself as American food perfect for Christmas. Due to the lack of turkey in Japan and fried chicken generally being delicious, the country ran with it and now Christmas is KFC’s best-selling time of year in Japan. It’s so popular that many KFC restaurants require you to put in your order months in advance.

But if KFC is sold out, no worries! They don’t have a monopoly on Christmas fried chicken, and several convenience stores have stuff that is just as much in the spirit of the season(ing).

And for anyone who wants to enjoy their Christmas chicken for days after Christmas is over, did you know you can use the bones to make KFC Christmas soup? It’s the gift that keeps on giving!

#4. Christmas cake

And what are you going to have after that KFC friend chicken dinner? The traditional Christmas cake, of course!

For those of us not in Japan, the idea of a “Christmas cake” probably sounds a bit silly. We’re used to having a Christmas turkey, or Christmas goose, or Christmas pie during the holiday…but a cake? It feels more like a birthday party than Christmas.

But in Japan, Christmas without a cake is like sushi without rice. Similar to KFC, some places require reserving your cake weeks or months in advance so that they can have it ready in time. But fear not – there are plenty of Christmas cakes out there! There are cute convenience store ones, alien-angel ones, ones made out of mashed potatoes and chicken

▼ ….or one with Santas and reindeer huddled around…

▼ …or one with Godzilla wearing a festive hat wishing you a Merry Christmas…

▼ …or this one, for those that prefer a bit of nightmare with their Christmas.

Why do Japanese people have Christmas cakes? There isn’t a definite answer, but the fad started to take off after World War II. Cakes and other sweets handed out by American soldiers during Japanese post-war reconstruction made an impact on Japanese people’s lives, and they saw the cake as the ultimate Western luxury food. Christmas, being the ultimate Western holiday, became the perfect time to enjoy the dessert, and the rest is Christm-istory!

#3. Tiny Christmas trees

This difference is more due to practicality than anything else, but the Christmas trees in Japan are tiny.

In the U.S. and other countries that celebrate Christmas around the world, getting the biggest Christmas tree you can and decorating it with lights and dozens of ornaments is an annual tradition. But in Japan, where living spaces are generally smaller and evergreen spruces, pines and firs are in short supply, they make do with what they can.

While there are places that sell big fake trees in Japan, one popular Christmas tree is a tiny one usually picked up at the 100 yen store for cheap.

▼ Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree doesn’t look
too much smaller than the typical Japanese tree.

“But wait,” you may ask, “if the trees are so small, where do they put all the presents?” For kids, the present is usually placed next to their pillow while they sleep, like some sort of Santa/Tooth Fairy hybrid.

As for the other family member’s presents… well, I have some bad news. Little kids may write to Santa and get a present or two on Christmas, but whole families and groups of friends giving each other gifts isn’t common during Christmas in Japan. That’s because Christmas in Japan isn’t about family, instead in Japan…

#2. Christmas is for couples

wtf-christmas-1PAKUTASO

Christmas in Japan is a lot like Valantine’s Day in the Western world. Couples go on romantic walks together looking at Christmas lights, they go out to eat at fancy restaurants, they give each other gifts, and sometimes even marriage proposals happen.

All of that is in stark contrast to the typical Western Christmas that is all about family and friends. Sure, there are some made-for-TV movies that come on every year about the little boy’s mom whose husband died in a terrible accident meeting the little girl’s dad whose wife died in a terrible accident and coming together via “The Magic of Christmas,” but that’s not how most people actually celebrate the holiday.

Such is the desire to have a “Christmas date” that 55-percent of Japanese women surveyed said they would accept a date invitation from pretty much any guy. But even then, if you happen to fall into the “no thank you” 45-percent, spending Christmas alone in Japan is a lot like spending Valentine’s Day alone in other countries.

▼ “She just wanted me for my Santa hat….
Takoyaki, you’re my only real true love.”

wtf-christmas-6

PAKUTASO

Of course, those alone on Christmas have no need to despair! You can go on a VR Christmas date with an anime voice actress, or you can spend a sensual evening with a bowl of instant noodles. Or you could just do what this guy did:

“Dear Santa, for Christmas I want a cute, kind girlfriend who loves me more than anything. I’ve been good all year, so please!”

And the #1 strangest thing Japanese people do for Christmas is…

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1. Going to work

wtf-christmas-2GAHAG (edited by RocketNews24)

What, you didn’t think you had Christmas off from work, did you? Rise and shine! It’s time to get on those crowded trains.

For me, going to work has to be the number one strangest thing Japanese people do on Christmas. I know it’s not a part of their traditional culture, and I know it’s not a national holiday here, and I know it’s celebrated very differently, but at the same time it’s similar enough to feel really, really weird to still have to go to work on December 24 and 25.

Ever since I was a kid, Christmas being a vacation day was something I took for granted. In elementary school, high school, college, even all the way through to my adult life, Christmas was the one day anyone and everyone could count on to not have to go to work and school and just stay at home all day.

Until moving to Japan. The fact that December 25 is just another day on the Japanese calendar may seem obvious, but the reality doesn’t hit you until you’ve actually gone to work on the day itself… and then it crashes right into you like a runaway reindeer.

▼ They might make me go to work on Christmas,
but they can’t make me not wear this awesome reindeer mask.

wtf-christmas-9PAKUTASO

So there you have it, the top five strange things Japanese people do for Christmas. Did we miss any Japanese Christmas traditions that you’ve seen before? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to study up on the top five Japanese insults so that way you’ll have a spicy vocabulary to impress everyone at your next “creeper” party.

References: Wikipedia, NPR
Top image: PAKUTASO, GAHAG (edited by RocketNews24)

W.T.F. Japan will be back next Thursday. In the meantime, give me a follow on Twitter and let me know if there’s any topics you’d like to see covered. See you next week!