Five Simple Ways to Enjoy Your Christmas Time in Japan

Christmas time is the best time of the year. Yes, also in Japan where the Christians population is a minority with only around 1% of the people living in the country. However, because Japanese people like to adopt Western festivals and traditions, Christmas is a very big topic right after the end of Halloween. But what do you do in Japan to enjoy the Christmas cheers? Here are five simple ways for you!
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1) Christmas Illumination

As soon as the days become shorter and the nights fall down earlier in Japan, the streets start to be lighted up with uncountable lights. This is the time when the winter illumination in Japan starts and seeing this is definitely worth it! Big Christmas trees are set up and the trees and street lamps are ready to bring you in a completely new world.
Starting with Tokyo, you can find illuminations nearly everywhere around the main areas. It is hard to say where to find the best, because every place has something special. Let me just mark out some highlights of Japans capital. 
First we have the Tokyo Midtown with the Starlight Garden on the spacious outdoor grounds just behind the shopping center. The illumination spectacle there is changing every year and brings up a big crowd of visitors. Going on to Tokyo Dome City where I was totally impressed when I went there for the first time. Over 100,000 lights are making the area around the huge baseball stadium and entertainment complex something really special.  Another great place is the Shiodome Caretta Illumination close to Shimbashi station. Just a small area, but this is fully covered with lights and definitely worth a visit. At Shibuya around the Hachiko figure illuminations are cooperating with Hello Kitty this year and you can find cute ribbons on the trees.
Tokyo Dome City
I could go on with these places in Tokyo endlessly, but for sure that is not all you can see. If we go a bit outside of the inner city of Tokyo, you find Yomiuri Land, an amusement park with its so called Jewellumintion. And not forget Sagamiko Ilumillion at Lake Sagami in Kanagawa prefecture.   
Yomiuri Land
Going up to the northern part of Japan you can find the White Illumination in Sapporo or the Pageant of Starlight in Sendai. In Kansai area the Kobe Luminarie is very famous, that started in 1995 after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in memorial of the victims. Last year, I visited the Osaka Hikari Renaissance which was also very impressive with all the light tunnels, art installations and more.
As you can see, there are Christmas and Winter Illuminations everywhere over the country. Just research a bit about your location and you can find some nice places filled with lights to get in Christmas mood. And do you know what is best? The illuminations mostly stay after Christmas, mainly until February. 

2) Christmas Markets

For me as a woman coming from Germany, something that definitely belongs to the time before Christmas are Christmas markets. The Japanese people noticed this, too, and so you can find German or European styled Christmas markets in the bigger cities around the country. Surely, these have a Japanese flair regarding food and drinks, but you still can enjoy this special feeling. 
At Christmas markets in Japan you often find European food, including various German sausages, pretzel, Stollen (Christmas cake), stews and more. Also hot red wine and beer aren’t missing there. All are mostly served from German-styled huts which give the special Christmas feeling. After having a snack, you can look around at some huts offering Christmas ornaments, traditional crafts, dishes and a lot of other things which are often imported from Europe. Regarding the bigger Christmas markets, they even have a program schedule with live music and Santa Claus coming over for the children. A visit to a Christmas market is always worth it, even if you don’t buy anything and just spend a few minutes there to absorb the atmosphere with all the Christmas lights. Because of this, I would recommend going there when it already became a little bit dark.     
Christmas markets Solamachi & Yokohama
If you are in Tokyo area, you can find Christmas markets for example at Roppongi Hills, Hibiya Park and Sky Tree Solamachi. Going a little bit further, I totally like the Christmas market at the Akarenga in Yokohama. Regarding to Kansai area, you can visit the one at the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka, where they even have a merry-go-round. But for sure, you can find them all over from Hokkaido to Kyushu. 
Christmas Market schedule for 2017
  • Tokyo Christmas Market (Hibiya Park) – Dec. 15 – Dec. 25
  • Roppongi Hills Christmas Market – Nov. 15 – Dec. 25
  • Solamachi Christmas Market – Nov. 9 – Dec. 25
  • Ebisu Garden Place Christmas Marché – Nov. 3 – Dec. 25
  • World Christmas Festival (Harajuku) – Dec. 23 + 24
  • Yokohama Akarenga Christmas Market – Nov. 25 – Dec. 25
  • German Christmas Market Osaka – Nov. 17 – Dec. 25
  • German Christmas Market Sapporo – Nov. 25 – Dec. 25
  • Nagoya Christmas Market – Dec. 9 – Dec. 25  
(Find more dates with the help of Google.)

3) Christmas Shopping

For sure, shopping is a big topic while Christmas time, because you need to find the right presents for your family and friends. The shops and department store all are decorated in Christmas themes; they have many special offers and limited Christmas goods. Enjoy your time strolling around the shops with Christmas songs playing along. 
Many shops sell Christmas decorations; you can find it from very cheap to super expansive depending on what you are looking for. Do you want to set up a Christmas tree at your home or put a wreath – the beginning of December is the perfect time to search for it. Find original Christmas ornaments, sometime even with anime and manga designs on it. But be prepared that these might be a bit more expensive than in your home country.
Also 100 yen shops like Daiso, Seria & Can Do such as 3Coins can be a paradies for Christmas lovers. They have several shelves of Christmas goods for cheap prices. I personally love the do-it-yourself-sets which you can use for making decorations, charms and more at home and get in the Christmas mode with this. Try it out!

4) Christmas at Amusement Parks

A very popular way, especially for younger people and families, of spending the time before Christmas lately became amusement parks. 
Why not enjoy the Christmas cheers with Minnie and Mickey at the Tokyo Disney Resort? While the Christmas Fantasy you can find many decorations around the parks, characters are customized in Christmas outfit and special Christmas food is offered. A huge Christmas tree is set up at the World Bazaar looking beautiful when light up in the night. The popular parade around the park area has special Christmas wagons telling seven stories of Christmas and at night you can watch the projection show Disney Gifts of Christmas. This year’s Christmas event is held from November 8 to December 25.
More information: Tokyo Disneyland
Counterpart of Disneyland Tokyo are the Universal Studios Japan in Osaka which also turned in a Christmas Wonderland from November 10 to January 8, 2018. An all-new Christmas tree was set up this year which is showing different phase while the big Christmas show called The Gift of Angels III. This one is always very crowded and you even can reserve premier seats. And that is not all. Celebrate a Christmas party with the Minions and other park characters and watch the light show at the Harry Potter area. As in Disneyland you also find Christmas themed food and merchandise here. 
Japan has many more theme parks you can visit for a special Christmas time. Hello Kitty and other Sanrio characters are celebrating with you at the Sanrio Puroland or experience the best Christmas with illuminations and a dance and music show at Nagasaki’s Huis Ten Bosch. There are many possibilities for you!

5) Special Christmas Food & Drinks

When it comes to Christmas, never forget the food! If you go the “traditional” Japanese way, many people say go with Christmas cakes, such as strawberry shortcakes. They are ready for preorder at the shops from the beginning of November and available in all tastes and shapes. However, mostly they are also very expensive, too. But hey, it is Christmas! Something else, what shouldn’t be missing on Christmas Eve is chicken. In 1974 it became popular to get your chicken meal from Kentucky Fried Chicken and so it can happen that the stores are very crowded. However, you also can buy special roasted chicken boxes at the supermarket, too. 
Because Christmas is a heaven for food companies, you can find everything with a Christmas theme. Big companies such as Starbucks are having their special Christmas drinks and Mister Donuts is giving out sweets in snowman shape. This year even Pepsi released an original Christmas Cola with a white color and not definably taste (it should be Christmas cake taste, but yeah…). Some traditional Japanese shops even jumped on the Christmas sale train and create wagashi (Japanese sweets) with a special Christmas flair. You will definitely not be hungry around the Christmas days!

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As you can see, there are many simple ways to enjoy your Christmas cheers in Japan!
I wish you all wonderful Christmas holidays!

Claudia Mitsubori