Christmas Differences Between the U.S. and Japan

One of our English language program students in Japan, Mai Emiley, recently wrote a paper discussing the similarities and differences between how Christmas is celebrated in Japan and how it is celebrated in the United States. With Christmas being only a couple of days away (as of posting), we thought that it might be an interesting read for many of you!


I would like to introduce some of the differences between how Christmas is celebrated in Japan and overseas by discussing the various foods, customs, and meanings behind Christmas. I became interested in this topic recently after viewing the American movie “Christmas with the Kranks.” The movie tells the story of the Krank family who initially decides to skip Christmas and go on a cruise during the holidays. However, on Christmas Eve they get a surprise call from their daughter Blair telling them that she will be home for Christmas and assumes that they will be doing the usual family Christmas party. In the end, the Kranks find themselves rushing to finish their Christmas preparation in time for their daughter.

In the movie, the families on the same street as the Kranks work together to decorate their houses, but the Kranks stubbornly boycott it. This results in the neighbors getting angry at the Kranks. Indeed, in America many people decorate the outside of their houses. In fact, some people who live on the same street will even work together to decorate the whole street like the characters in the movie. However, in Japan people rarely decorate the outside of their houses with Christmas lights.

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Decorating houses with Christmas lights isn’t the only thing that keeps people busy around Christmastime. People are also very busy preparing for Christmas buying gifts and food, and writing Christmas cards to relatives. Christmas is big day for them, so they often make or use advent calendars to count down the days until Christmas. This shows just how significant of a day Christmas is.

Christmas trees are also a necessary item around Christmas in every country. Typically, most Japanese families have Christmas trees made of plastic, but in the United States, there are families who buy genuine fir trees every year – even today! There are even specialty shops for trees. In the movie Christmas with the Kranks, the father first refused to buy a Christmas tree, so only shabby trees were left at the shop when he went at the last minute.

There are a few other interesting Christmas traditions as well. For example, children often take pictures with Santa at shopping malls. Additionally, all the good movies of that year are screened in theaters around Christmas. So, some people go see movies around this time. Other traditions include going to church or standing under the mistletoe and kissing at parties.

Food is also very important for Christmas, and Japanese people also have a strong image of certain Christmas foods. Fried chicken and cake are typical Christmas foods in Japan. In our image of Christmas overseas, typical Christmas foods include turkey, ham, gingerbread, and cakes. However, there are many other kinds of dishes depending on the family and religion. There are also various kinds of pies.

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In Japan, Christmas is generally seen as an event for immediate family or couples only. However, Christmas overseas is usually spent with a big group of extended family and relatives. People overseas eat these Christmas treats with their extended family and relatives. In the movie, the mom struggles to get her daughter’s favorite ham. Sadly, the ham she finally buys is run over by a truck!

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In Japan, lovers give each other gifts, friends exchange gifts, and parents give gifts to their children. This is the same in America. However, little children in America also give hand-made gifts to adults and big brothers and sisters. Also, nowadays some parents give their children about $20 before Christmas and the kids use that money to pick out gifts for the people who are important to them.

At the end of the movie, the Krank’s neighbors help out Mr. Krank and his wife even though they boycotted Christmas. The neighbors hurry to help decorate, lend them a Christmas tree, and give them a spare ham. As for Japan and overseas, Christmas tends to be the day on which children receive gifts. However, the true meaning of Christmas is being thankful for one’s own family and the things we have now. Also, Christmas is time for thinking about peace and goodwill and being considerate to other people.

Mai Emiley

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