Lights strung across a park, with mist rising from the ground in Tokyo prior to Christmas a couple of years ago. AKIHO HARA PHOTO
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Akiho Hara is an international student at Yarmouth Consolidated Memorial High School. As part of her co-operative education studies, she interned at the Vanguard to become familiar with journalism by working in our newsroom. We asked her to write a story about what Christmas is like in Japan.)
By Akiho Hara
In Canada, Christmas is the biggest celebration of the year. In Japan, it is just the warm up act for New Year’s Day.
Children love Christmas. They get excited about Christmas and in some countries like Japan, where the Christian population is less than one per cent, Christmas is still something that kids look forward to just like they do in Canada.
In Japan, you only get one present from each person. There is a reason for this. A week after Christmas is New Year’s and preparation for this big event starts from about the end of October. At the same time, a major city like Tokyo gets fancy Christmas decorations. Adults on New Year’s day have to give kids an allowance. The amount of money depends on how old they are and it goes up as they grow older. They are typically able to get this allowance until they enter university.
Traditionally in Canada, you can expect to get a gift whether you are a child or a parent. This is not the case in Japan. If you are a parent, you only give. If you are a child, you only recieve. Children in Japan learn giving by being given a gift. When kids begin working, it is common, for them to give a small amount from their wages to their parents each month.
In Japan, it is not really common to have a Christmas tree and putting presents underneath it in each household. Children get presents by their pillows when they wake up. Whether by pillows or underneath trees, Santa Claus finds ways to bring smiles to youngsters.
For Christians, Christmas is time to celebrate that Jesus was born, but most Japanese do not know this. How Canadians celebrate Christmas and how Japanese celebrate Christmas is quite different. The trend towards the nuclear family is common in big cities, where all Christmas marketing is centered. One of the biggest differences may be Christmas is not always for a family gathering. In Japan, younger generations likely spend their Christmas as couples or with friends. They might go to Christmas dinner, or go abroad to spend Christmas. However, still many families who have young children spend Christmas day together. In Japan, it is more common to eat chicken, not turkey, during Christmas. After the big meal it is time to eat Christmas cake.
All Christmas decorations come down by Dec.26. The Japanese immediately set their minds on New Year’s day, which they consider to be the biggest celebration of the year. That’s when the whole family gathers and celebrates by eating a special meal called Osechi and having fun. The music you hear when you walk through a city is completely turned into Japanese traditional music from western Christmas music. TV shows are all about the end of the year and preparations for the New Year.
The post office even gets busier after Christmas because they have to deliver New Year’s cards that people have sent before Christmas. Those cards are similar to Christmas cards and are sent in time to be delivered on New Year’s Day.
Japanese are not really religious people, but they have preserved their culture, and that has endured for thousands of years, and is based on Buddhism or Shintoism. Every August, there is a traditional event called Obon and this is also the time when whole family gathers. They believe that spirits of their ancestors come down, so people show their respect and remember them. For Japan, Christmas is just a pre-event to remind them that the biggest celebration is coming. This is why Japanese people celebrate Christmas and a week later, they go to a temple or shrine and wish for luck for the coming year.
By the end of this whole celebration, people settle back into their nomal lives and are ready to face the challenges of the year ahead. The way people celebrate Christmas can be different because many countries have their own customs and traditions.What all Christmas celebrations share - no matter where they are taking place - is that they bring joy.