Few Japanese are actually Christians. So why is Christmas such a big deal in Japan?
No place celebrates Christmas with more fervor than Japan, which is a little odd when you think about it. After all, according to the U.S. State De-partment, "49.7 percent of Japanese citizens adhere to Shintoism, 44.5 percent to Buddhism, 5 percent to so-called ‘new’ religions, and 0.8 percent to Christianity." How did it come to be that the Japanese celebrate the holiday, and what traditions do they observe?
· It wasn’t until after World War II, when American troops and their families settled in Japan, that Christmas began to have widespread appeal to the Japanese. It may have been an unconscious way of paying homage to the victors. The Japanese found elements of Christmas —love, family, buying presents, eating a good meal—easy to embrace. In that culture, holidays are meant as special occasions during which we should meditate on our relationships to God and community.
· The Japanese use the marketplace to promote this meditation on God, community and family. This consumerism on steroids is a lot like being back in the U.S., but to a greater degree. Disney Japan, which opened in 1982, has successfully pitched to families the idea that no Christmas is complete without a day spent with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Cinderella, and all their friends.
· What kind of gourmet spread can you look forward to if you’re celebrating Christmas in, say, Tokyo? A bucket of chicken from KFC. A marketing genius at KFC, Kentakki furaido chikin, opened the first franchise in Japan in 1970. By December 1974, the company launched its first Christmas campaign. Today in Japan, it is considered de rigueur to have KFC at Christmas. And at many of the restaurants throughout the country, you will see Colonel Sanders decked out in a red suit and cap looking a lot like Santa Kuroosu.
· The least commercialized Christmas tradition in Japan is The Daiku. "The Daiku, or Great Nine, refers to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony," explained Susan Chikuba, a New Jersey émigré and Tokyo-based writer, who has resided in Japan for the past 17 years. "It is traditionally performed in many places at Christmas —sometimes with huge, massed choruses."
· In Japan, Christmas is considered to be more a time for romance than family togetherness. Hotels and restaurants offer special romantic packages. "Christmas is like Valentine’s Day," said Rumiko Obata, vice president of the Manotsuru sake brewery. "Everybody feels like being with somebody." And when you’re not on a date, it seems, you are on the receiving end of pity: "I remember going to a restaurant with two girlfriends on Christmas Eve," said Karina Shima, an employee of Park Hyatt Tokyo. "We were obviously the only girls in the place and the chef felt so bad for us that he gave us free cocktails all night and stuffed animals…to take home with us."
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