Nothing is weirder than Xmas in Japan

Santa blasphemy, blue poinsettias and Xmas hats from hell

The first Christmas I spent in Japan, my head whipped around in a doubletake at the Santa with reindeer right next to a Godzilla made of white fairy lights. I stopped in my tracks when I heard churchy religious carols being played right alongside Jingle Bells in department stores. And I followed a baffling line of people around the block on Christmas Eve, to discover that it ended at my local Kentucky Fried Chicken.

It turns out that Christmas and New Years in Japan are celebrated sort of opposite to the way they’re observed in the West. Where I come from, Christmas is a big family holiday and New Year’s is about partying your brains out. In Japan, it’s New Year’s when family come together, and Christmas Eve is the second biggest romantic date night of the year.

And like most things in Japan, they get Christmas exactly, excruciatingly right, and at the same time so very, very wrong. Poinsettias are all the rage, lavishly-trimmed trees abound, and Santa and his helpers are on every corner, except sometimes they’re a little…

Blue poinsettias, pink fur ball Christmas tree, Santa and helper dressed in yellow costumes

But it wasn’t until the Seven Inflatable Dwarves appeared outside the local supermarket, nodding along to disco hits of the 70s and the theme from Totoro, that I really took a deep dive into the oddities of Xmas in Japan.

Inflatable seven dwarves outside Meidi-ya supermarket in Hiroo
It took me a while, but I finally figured out why they were there. Turns out, there’s some elf-dwarf confusion in Japan, and Santa’s Little Dwarves didn’t seem weird to anyone but me.

But that’s just the beginning. Like everything in Japan, they’ve taken the most iconic holiday traditions from around the world and turned them…Japanese.

Let’s start with the traditional feast, shall we?

I’ve never seen a turkey for sale in Japan, and it’s not just because turkeys are too hilariously huge for a Japanese family to consume and people don’t entertain guests in their homes. It’s because traditional Japanese cuisine doesn’t involve baking and Japanese kitchens don’t have ovens. Ever.

Which also rules out the next best thing: roast chicken. But never fear, tradition can still be satisfied at…KFC! Huge numbers of Japanese are convinced that the most “traditional” Christmas Eve meal is a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Give that marketing man a medal—there is such a run on fried chicken on December 24th that it has to be ordered in advance, and the lines to pick it up are insane.

Colonel Sanders dressed as Santa outside KFC
Would you like that regular, crispy, or with seaweed?

The fried chicken gobblefest is followed by another “traditional” food that exists nowhere else in the world: the fabled Japanese “Christmas cake.”

Christmas cake from Lawson
This is the preferred type: the J-version of strawberry shortcake (fresh berries, whipped cream, tasteless vanilla sponge cake). This one is the lowest-common-denominator generic version from the Lawson convenience store, but not to be outdone…
Christmas cake selection from Seven-Eleven
…Seven-Eleven has a choice of six varieties, for those lame individuals who forget to order one until they’re on the way to their Xmas Eve jam.
Chritmas cake catalog page from Tokyu
But anyone with two festive brain cells to rub together planned ahead and visited their local department store to shell out $30-$50 (USD) and put their dibs on something a little more artistic and gourmet, like this selection from Tokyu. Note the lack of any objects for scale. Not only are these things inexplicably expensive, they’re SMALL. Think pancake, not birthday cake.

And now you also understand why single Japanese women who waited too long to get married were rudely referred to as “Christmas Cakes” in sexist days gone by—demand for whipped cream confections festooned with season-specific decorations is a lot higher on the day before Christmas than the day after.

But now for the main event: Santa blasphemy!

Stylish Santa costume
If the jolly old elf is neither jolly nor old, is he still Santa?
Red leopard fake fur Santa costume
They got the color right, but I’d think twice before sitting on this sketchy-lookin’ Red Leopard Santa’s lap
Black Santa costume
In what might be the perfect Santa costume for 2020, Emo Santa won’t bring you anything you want, but he’s got a killer gloom playlist
Gold Santa costume
And if you’re hoping Christmas morning will make up for the disappointments of the past year, you can count on Bling Santa to bring all the rhinestone-studded car accessories your little heart desires
Santa costume with cape and mask
Unless it’s avenging you’re after, in which case the Count of Monte Claus is a better bet
Santa man superhero costume
Sorry, but this one just looks like Santa accidentally left his superhero cape in the dryer too long
And if you’re just not feeling it, these Christmas hats from hell should disguise your lack of seasonal glee, a bad hair day, and your willingness to fight to the death if anyone gives you a hard time about it

By now you’re probably wondering, why are there nearly as many costumes for sale before Christmas as before Halloween? Three words: company Christmas party. But what do you imagine happens as the second most romantic date night of the year approaches, and the standard way of displaying company spirit is by dressing up in seasonally-themed attire and drinking a lot?

You guessed it. Sexy Santa.

Sexy Santa costumes
What better way to signal the cute guy in Accounting that you’re still available on Xmas Eve than to wear a fake fur mini-skirt to the company shindig?
Sexy Santa costumes
But it won’t do to show up in the same thing that your co-workers who have the same idea will be wearing…
Sexy Santa costume store
…so best to shop at a dedicated Sexy Santa outlet, for maximum selection
Sexy Santa costume Magical Body
Since he hasn’t got the hint by now, this might be the time when too much sexiness is just enough
Sexy Santa costume Little Red Riding Hood
Or you can appeal to his inner Big Bad Wolf
Sexy Santa costume Rabbit Santa
Unless he’s the shy type who would be scared away by anything more suggestive than a bunny rabbit
Just to be fair, let’s not allow women to have all the Sexy Santa fun
Sexy Santa costume for crossdressing men
Here’s a Sexy Santa designed for all your crossdressing needs

But of course, it’s not just people who get into the spirit of the season. From the land where pets wear clothes…

Santa costumes for dogs at Tokyo pet store
No dog goes unhumiliated
Santa costume cape and hood for cats in gachaphon machine
And no cat can escape the relentless Instagramming

And finally, the most Japanese Santas of them all…

No holiday is complete without anime thong Santa
Peeing statue in Santa costume
…and checking to see what the Peeing Statue is wearing for Xmas

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Jonelle Patrick writes mystery novels set in Tokyo, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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