Hove you ever wondered how Christmas and New Year are celebrated in Japan?

As the city transitions from autumn into winter, millions of colourful illuminations are displayed everywhere in Japan, turning whole country into a sparkling magical world during the Christmas season! Fresh cold air and clear winter sky, the festive season somehow makes us feel very special. Hokkaido, Tohoku and mountainous areas begin to get snow in late autumn whereas Tokyo usually has the first snowfall in December. If you are lucky enough you might be able to witness a beautiful Christmas moment with sparkling illumination and white snow.

As a Japanese currently living in Australia, I found it interesting to experience both traditions and see the difference between countries. Today I would like to share with you how we spend Christmas and New Year season in Japan.

Christmas illumination in Roppongi Japan

Christmas in Japan 

Shopping malls, restaurants, hotels, and public areas everywhere have the most incredible display of lights and decorations during the month of December. Christmas is celebrated in Japan, but it is much different than family-oriented holiday in western countries.

In Japan, Christmas is mainly the time for friends to gather and have parties, make plans to meet up for dinner and celebrate, or a romantic date for couples.

Christmas day is not a public holiday in Japan, so most people work as usual on that day. It becomes a busy day especially for people who work at restaurants, karaoke bars, retails and theme parks. Less gifts are exchanged and no such things as a Boxing day. Children usually get presents from Santa at night of the Christmas Eve while they are sleeping and find their presents in the morning of Christmas day.

Christmas food in Japan

We celebrate and eat Christmas cakes. There are many kinds of cakes but the most popular one for Christmas is strawberry shortcakes. Instead of having turkey, surprisingly KFC is very popular Christmas feasts at home in Japan.  As my childhood memory, I remember I loved having KFC, Christmas cake and a glass of kids sparkling wine with my family. When I was little, KFC was so special for me like I get to eat once a year on Christmas. Now I am in Australia, I eat them very often for my lazy dinner but not on the Christmas day.

Christmas illumination in Japan
Christmas illumination in Japan - 3
KFC at Christmas in Japan, food, tradittion
strawberry shortcake, popular cake in Japan
Joya no Kane, Temple bell in japan
Sunrise in Japan
Japan, New Year, going to shrine, Hatsumode
japan, new year, Osechi ryori, celebration

New Year Holiday in Japan

Soon after the Christmas, New Year holiday begins in Japan. New Year’s Eve and the first few days of the new year are the most important holiday for Japanese people. It is the time when all family members gather at home, spend fun time together, eat traditional foods and drinks.

Same as other countries, you can go to the countdown event on New Year’s Eve and celebrate the end of a year and the beginning of another year in Japan.

On the night of New Year’s Eve, many temples across the country ring their bell 108 times to welcome New Year. This is called “Joya no Kane”. Whole town gets quieter and you will hear the “Joya no Kane” out of nowhere. Listening to the sound of the bell while waiting for the beginning of the New Year is a tradition that has existed in Japan since ancient times.

New Year Traditions

We have many traditional customs associated with food during the New Year period. Japanese people eat Soba noodle on 31st December. This is called “Toshikoshi Soba” and long Soba noodles symbolise a long life.
Also, Osechi (Special assorted Bento boxes), Mochi (Rice cakes) and Ozoni (Soup dish with Mochi) are traditionally eaten on the 1st or the first few days in January with whole family members. By eating those foods, we wish for a long, healthy, and happy life in the coming year as well.

Other tradition is seeing “Hatsu Hinode”- the first sunrise of new year. Lots of Japanese people go out to the mountain, beach, or a lookout point in early morning to see the first sunrise on 1st January as it is believed to bring a good luck and make your wishes come true.

Also, there is the Japanese tradition of visiting shrine or temple on the New Year day to thank them and pray for another great year ahead. This is called “Hatsumoude” and people usually visit shrine or temple between 1st and 3rd of January. Popular destinations such as Meiji Shrine or Sensoji Temple get the busiest and crowded with lots of visitors during this time.

Travel Tips

  • Enjoy the magical world of illumination and beautiful winter scenery of Japan.
  • Many events on New Year's Eve and New Year Day.
  • Experience traditional events and "Hatsumoude" at Japanese shrine or temple.
  • See the first sunrise of the new year over the Mt. Fuji.
  • Japan's New Year Holiday period is usually from 28th December to 3rd January.
  • The New year period is a busy and expensive time to travel with some businesses closing for a few days or charge special price.
  • Flights and Shinkansen seats become full quickly during New Year holiday so plan ahead.

Winter is special time of the year in Japan, being much quieter and full of traditional events and rituals. Snow against red gates of shrines and temples, or in the rural fields add serene feel to this densely populated country.

How about spending a Christmas and New year season in Japan? The New Year holiday period gets busier than usual, however it is posible to travel around and we can create a Private Tour for family, couple or a group of friends to meet your dream.

Alternately, we have a Winter Snow Spectacular Tour of Japan that gives you the magic of winter in Japan. This small group tour takes you on a unique 15-day journey through the heart of the Japan Alps and to the remote wilderness of Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. The tour reveals the spectacular beauty of Japan during winter-time through an amazing selection of experiences.