Merry Christmas! Or whatever you celebrate. (Or happy holidays, if you’re not religious. It’s all cool with us.)
Christmas in Japan is weird, and that’s the way it should be.
It’s been ‘Christmas’ for nearly 2 months already
Other countries are like this too, but Japan’s Christmas started on November 1st. As soon as Halloween ended, the trees and tinsel were out.
Sure, it’s more winter-y that way – November weather here can be kinda mild. Like ‘still wearing shorts’ mild. You’re not likely to see snow, so at least seeing something reminds you it’ll be Christmas soon. Like themed food. Christmas ice cream, doughnuts, cupcakes, cookies, and pasta shapes. All of which we’ll eat.
There’s a drawback to such an early start… some things sell out before it’s even December. We’re getting lumps of coal this year.
And 3 weeks before Christmas, many shops started promo-ing new year’s lucky bags instead. So we’re looking to 2018 before Christmas Day even happens. Damn. To be fair, some of those bags are in huge demand. Starbucks started only selling their lucky bags online, to prevent long queues and customer punch-ups. If you’ve never seen people fighting over coffee beans… trust us, you don’t wanna.
Lights and food everywhere
Osaka’s had a lot going on for the winter season. We had 2 Christmas markets this year: the usual German one under Umeda Sky Building, and a new one out at Expo City. German, or European, or whatever, the theme’s not so important. What’s important is that you ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at the trees, and get your photo taken with Santa. That’s what Christmas is all about.
Illuminations are another big winter attraction across Japan. It gets dark so early, we need something to do.
For Kansai people who love Christmas lights on a grand scale, nearby Kobe’s the place to go. Kobe Luminarie’s an amazing winter light display that draws massive crowds. And you can believe the hype, because this thing’s epic.
It spans a whole park, and several roads, created with hundreds of thousands of individual lights. And seeing it in person is awesome. Hundreds and thousands of other visitors agree. You can tell because they get a bit elbow-y. The security staff tell you to keep moving, but everyone knows you gotta stop to get a decent photo.
Santa Claus comes to town… to ‘lap’ land
Another highlight of November/December in Kansai is the annual Great Santa Run. Osaka Castle park turns red and white for a day. Kinda reminds us of those fleeting pink sakura blossoms.
We couldn’t make it to the 2017 race, but we heard it was a blast. There’s no pressure to run the whole 5km course – you can walk, skip, hop, or do whatever. As long as everyone enjoys themselves… and it sure looks like they do.
Almost every runner is dressed as Santa – hat, beard, the works. That’s not confusing when you’re trying to find your friends at all. You’ll also see a few elves and reindeer around.
People turn out in their hundreds for the Santa Run. Impressive numbers, given the weather. After all, it’s a fund-raising event. The Osaka Great Santa Run splits entry fees and donations. Part goes to running the event (and making sure everyone’s got a Santa costume). The rest’s spent on buying Christmas presents for children who have to spend their holidays unwell or in hospital.
Christmas means chicken… and cake
For a lot of people in Japan, Christmas begins with a K. The one in KFC, that is. Can’t get more festive than a bucket of fried chicken (for real). We’ve never seen a marketing campaign become a tradition quite like this.
Fried chicken may be fast food, but rocking up on Christmas Day won’t give you the best choice. Nope, you’ve gotta be smarter than that. Reserving your bucket way in advance is your safest option. Some people have had their chicken order locked down for weeks already.
The other ‘must do’ is pre-ordering a Christmas cake for dessert. The Japan-style cake is sponge, strawberries, and more cream than any person should ever eat. It’s such a big thing that ‘Christmas cake’ was Pepsi’s limited-edition winter flavour for 2017.
Christmas Day 2017 is a normal working Monday in Japan. A total shock, considering all that effort and planning. So we felt like eating some cake would make it nicer. We ordered this one from the Seven-Eleven next door to our office building:
‘Santa’s Boot’ has a strawberry coating, sponge, strawberry mousse, and bits of yellow peach in the middle. The top was finished with whipped cream, and a yellow chocolate star. It was an obvious winner. When we picked it up from the conbini, it looked like this:
That’s a Christmassy cake, alright. The whipped cream ended up more generous than we expected. And wow, with all those layers it was a nice chunky dessert. Seven-Eleven’s website said this cake serves 4-6 people. With 5 of us around the table, we nearly didn’t finish this monster.
From everyone at DEJAPAN, have a great Christmas. And we wish you all the best for 2018.