Taking the world less travelled

Traditional Christmas in Japan

Posted by on Jan 3, 2010 in Life | 4 comments

You may have heard about a “traditional” Christmas in Japan, and I’m talking about food here – KFC and Christmas cake. There is lots of information out there on Christmas in Japan, let me throw you a link to Tofugu whose post is nice and quick and easy to digest.

I had a talk with my middle school kids about Christmas, and I think the general consensus was they didn’t really celebrate it. About half had Christmas cake, I think they were all too young for the romantic experience of it all. My English teacher is a bit different perhaps from most Japanese in that she is very interested in Western traditions, she celebrates with her children, they each get one present and they put up a Christmas tree.

I think it is also important to note that at least in my area, kids think that Santa comes from Finland, rather than the North Pole. So I think they have combined more closely Santa and Saint Nicholas, even though wikipedia says St N was from what is now called Turkey, something I didn’t know… There is one man who I haven’t had the pleasure of introducing on this blog yet. His name is Chatty Man, and I have had many pleasant experiences with him. One was him explaining in a condescending way about St N, how he is actually Santa. I believe I had to control my reflex to eyeroll and explain that yes, I know who the big N is…. Sorry, I had to get that frustration out. Lucky for me Chatty Man is at the school I have just left.

It is also interesting that kids in Japan don’t know what elves are. Some of my classes know who Dobby is from Harry Potter, and I was like “yes! He’s an Elf!” Although he is only an interpretation of an elf and the Christmas elves are a bit different, but at least that is a concept of an elf they can grab onto. My 3rd graders at Middle school knew who Dobby was, and then my 2nd graders in Primary school knew too, but then my 5th Graders in primary school didn’t know who Dobby was. (Interesting fact about Carlie: I dislike Harry Potter with a passion).

The kids also got confused when I ended classes with “Merry Christmas!” “It’s not Christmas yet…” Yes, we do say it during the Christmas period, and I wasn’t going to see them again until after Christmas…

Christmas this year felt very un-Christmas like. If I didn’t ask for holidays I would have had to go to work. Instead I went to Nara and had KFC for lunch, the most “Christmasy” thing I did. I have to say I like KFC in Japan. The chicken tastes just as fatty but you don’t have the oil running down your arms as bad. Also the bread on the burgers doesn’t taste as floury and cheap as it does back home. Some nice pluses.

My Christmas feast. Not a good substitute for Christmas food back home, but as far as KFC goes it was pretty good. I didn’t have any Christmas cake, I think this was enough calories for one day…

Merry Christmas!


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  1. Theresa

    I’m with you on the Harry Potter thing and did not even know enough to know it had an ‘elf.’ Interesting observance, I will have to ask my students (all adults) if they know what an elf is. A few of my students celebrate Christmas and put up trees. All of them said they got gifts as children. All of them said they eat Christmas Cake on the big day. Love reading your blog and comparing experiences! I spent Christmas Day in Tokyo observing the illuminations. They were plentiful and concerts were free all over the city. It was a lovely place to spend the holiday. Akemashita Omedeto Gozaimasu! Theresa

  2. Erin

    I’m glad you enjoyed the Christmas article, Carlie! I was tempted to bring KFC to my Christmas potluck this year, but never quite got around to it.

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