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Revisiting The World Showcase And The Customs Of Christmas: Japan

Revisiting The World Showcase And The Customs Of Christmas: Japan

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Christmas around Epcot’s World Showcase will look different this year as there will be no Storytellers. Follow along on my adventures as I share with you how each country in Epcot’s World Showcase celebrates Christmas while looking back at the storytellers of years past. Today we focus on the Japan Pavilion!

Christmas Traditions at Epcot

One of my favorite traditions while visiting Epcot around the holidays is for me and my youngest daughter to visit each and every Storyteller’s event during our trip to Epcot.

As a Sociologist, who teaches and studies culture, it makes my heart so happy to be able to partake in learning and participating in the vast array of Christmas traditions that countries practice around the world.

Thus far in our 12 part series, we have already visited the holiday customs and traditions from Canada, the United Kingdom, France and Morocco.

Today, we continue our adventures to one of my favorite countries that I am hoping to visit for my 40th birthday next year! Japan!

Celebrating Christmas in Japan


Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan.

It is not practiced as a religious holiday or celebration as there are only about 1% of Christians living in Japan.  

Courtesy of

However, Christmas has become widely celebrated in Japan for the last few decades.

The customs of gift giving and sending Christmas cards have become popular throughout Japan as a way to spread good cheer with friends and family.

Courtesy of “Girl by Christmas Tree” by Toshiko Uchima

Fun Fact:

Christmas Eve is thought of as a romantic day, in which couples spend together and exchange presents.

In many ways Christmas Eve resembles Valentine’s Day celebrations as dining reservations for that evening is highly difficult to obtain!

Courtesy of

In Japan, Santa is known as サンタさん、サンタクロース santa-san (Mr Santa).

Courtesy of

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and its final act the “Ode to Joy” are the two most popular musical pieces that are famous in Japan.

In fact it is known as ‘daiku’ (which means ‘number nine’). There is a 10,000 people choir in Osaka that are known as the “Number Nine Chorus.”

Traditional Christmas Food

Courtesy of Quality Stock Arts/Shutterstock

Kentucky Fried Chicken is extremely popular Christmas Day!

An estimated 3.6 million families visit the fast food chain every December. 

Courtesy of James Gates

Long lines wrap around the restaurant with the demand being so high that it is often necessary for people to place their food orders weeks in advance!

So, how did KFC become so popular for the Christmas season in Japan?

In 1974, KFC introduced the “Kentucky for Christmas” campaign Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii! It became so popular that it remains a popular tradition for Christmas to this very day!

Courtesy of Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

In terms of desserts in Japan during the holiday season, Christmas cake is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve.

The cake is a sponge cake and is frosted with whipped cream. It is often decorated with strawberries and usually topped with Christmas chocolates, seasonal fruits, and a Santa Claus decoration.

Tokyo Disneyland

Courtesy of Disney

One other way to celebrate Christmas in Japan, especially in Tokyo, is by visiting Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo Sea.

Disney parks are no strangers to creating and sharing beautiful seasonal decorations and parades!

Courtesy of Disney

I have often heard from people that the Disney styled Christmas may have also influenced how the Japanese culture celebrates Christmas thanks to Disney.

Courtesy of Disney

And do not get me started on the holiday seasonal Disneyland Tokyo merchandise!

We can thank Tokyo Disneyland for the introduction of the adorable Mickey and Minnie snowman and gingerbread creations as they have become quite the popular line of merchandise here in the United States!

Japanese New Year

Courtesy of

The Japanese New Year, better known as ‘O Shogatsu 正月 is the most important holiday of the year celebrated in Japan.

It is celebrated over five days from December 31st to January 4th.

Courtesy of

Years are traditionally viewed as completely separate from other years. Therefore, each new year provides a fresh and new start!

Bonenkai parties (year forgetting parties) are held with the purpose of leaving the old year’s worries and troubles behind.

Sounds appropriate for saying goodbye to 2020, doesn’t it?

Rituals and Traditions for the New Year

Courtesy of

Here in the United States we have heard of “spring cleaning.” In Japan, the cleaning of one’s home is the tradition before beginning the new year.

It is called oosouji, or “big cleaning.” It is traditionally practiced on New Year’s Eve.

A lot of times, every inch of the household is cleaned, including places that remain untouched other times of the year.

Another tradition on the 1st of January is to observe the first hatsu-hinode (sunrise) of the year. What a beautiful way to began a brand new year!

On New Year’s there is a tradition known as Otoshidama. Children receive an envelope containing money.

Not much money is given, but it is a gift that children very much look forward to receiving!

Courtesy of

Another tradition that has been practiced for many generations for the new year is for families to visit a shrine or temple during shogatsu (hatsumode).

Several million people visit during the first three days of the year.

Traditional New Years Food

Courtesy of

Traditional food for the Japanese New Year is meticulously prepared in both cooking and presentation.

Courtesy of

On New Year’s Eve, toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles), symbolizing longevity, are enjoyed by families who have gathered together.

Another reason is that noodles cut off easily when bitten, which symbolizes strong determination and belief to overcome any upcoming hardship and obstacle.

Osechi is a traditional New Year’s assortment where each food item stands for a symbolic representation.

Courtesy of

Some of the common foods in the dish are black beans, datemaki, (sweet rolled egg) kokumaki (seaweed or kelp) kazunoko, (roe) shrimp, and gobo, (a burdock root)

Normally, families will cook enough food to eat for 3 consecutive days of the New Year.

Japan Pavilion-Daruma Vendor

An important New Year symbol and good luck charm for the Japanese is the Daruma doll, which has no pupils in its eyes.

Tradition is to make a wish and paint the pupil of the left eye. When your wish comes true, you must paint the right eye.

But if your wish does not come true by the end of the year you can always try again next year because as the Daruma vendor says “I have lots of daruma’s to sell!”

The legend of the Daruma dates back to the 6th century. A Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma began the life long journey to spread the teachings of Buddha.

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

It is believed that Bodhidharma meditated for nine years and that is why the Daruma has no legs or arms.

Daruma is a symbol and reminder to the people of Japan of patience and persistence through the ups and downs of life.

Another very popular custom is the sending of New Year’s cards, which are specially marked to be delivered on January 1 throughout the entire country of Japan.

Personally, the Daruma vendor is one of my favorite storytellers to visit in Epcot during the holidays. I have always loved her enthusiasm that she portrays while sharing the traditions and rituals of the Japanese New Year.

Our Storyteller Adventure Continues

For our next adventure series, we will be visiting Italy. We will save The American Adventure for Christmas week!

We will continue to learn the various traditions and customs that are practiced during the holidays throughout Epcot’s World Showcase.

We have now made it half way around the World Showcase!

I hope you join me on our next adventure! Merīkurisumasu メリークリスマス(Merry Christmas!)

Did you learn any new traditions that are practiced in Japan during the holiday season and the New Year? Do you remember watching the Daruma doll seller? Let us know in the comments on Facebook and in our Facebook group.

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