Christmas was first introduced to Japan with the introduction of Christianity in the 16th century. Because the majority of people living in Japan identify with Shinto and/or Buddhism, Christmas is not seen as a religious occasion and is not considered a national holiday. Japanese Christmas traditions are secular and commercial-- here are some popular ways to celebrate Christmas in Japan!
1. Kentucky Fried Chicken
The tradition started when Takeshi Okawara, the manager of the first KFC in Japan, came up with the idea of selling a Christmas "party barrel" inspired by the traditional American turkey dinner. The promotion was named "Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii" (Kentucky for Christmas) and launched in 1974. Since there were not many established Christmas traditions in Japan, KFC quickly caught on as a unique tradition.
2. Going on Dates
3. Christmas Cake
4. Unique Winter Illuminations
In addition to Santa-san, there is another gift-bearing figure in Japanese culture: Hotei-osho, one of the Seven Lucky Gods of Japanese mythology. You may have seen a sculpture or painting of Hotei before-- he is commonly depicted as a smiling, bald, fat man, and is often mistaken for being the Buddha. Because of his happy face and large belly, Hotei is often thought of as being the "Japanese Santa." Just like Santa Claus, Hotei carries a large sack full of gifts wherever he goes. He is the god of fortune and guardian of children; his ability to entertain children and make them laugh is another reason why he is associated with Santa. Hotei is believed to have eyes in the back of his head, ensuring that children remain on their best behavior-- similar to how Santa can "see you when you're sleeping!"