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Christmas in Japan: Click here to go back

Christmas is one a few holidays that is celebrated in Japan with as many traditions as there are of countries. Whether the symbols of Christmas are the candles, singing carols, or Santa Kurohsu, the spirit rarely changes: the spirit of peace, giving gifts and good will towards everyone. Christmas began at the beginning of the 20th century and is sure to keep on going.

There are 2 special customs in Japan:
First, the daiku, or Great nine, which refers to Beethoven's ninth symphony. This is performed in many places at Christmas time ( also New Year), sometimes with huge masses of choruses for the most famous part, with what Americans sing as a hymn- Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.

The second custom, is the Christmas cake. Christmas in Japan just wouldn't be the same without it. It's a blessing to the Japanese bakery industries, that's for sure, because this is not a home project. Japanese are shocked when told that America knows of no Christmas cake and that it is a Japanese custom.

Japanese families eat turkey mainly on Christmas Day, but some eat it on Christmas Eve depending on their custom.

Christmas Tree
There are no live Christmas trees in Japan, only artificial trees. Not that many houses have their own tree yet, but are starting to, appear more often at Christmas time. The trees are decorated with small toys, dolls, paper ornaments, gold paper fans, lanterns and wind chimes. The most popular ornament us the 'origami swan.' The Christmas tree is placed in hospitals to lift the spirit of the sick.

Mistletoe and evergreen are hung from the ceilings. Tinsels and lights are hung in the dance halls, cafes and pinball parlours (where 'modern- minded' Japanese go to celebrate). An amulet for good luck is placed on the front door. 1000% of lights at shops have increased with aprox. 7 years. Japanese children exchange thousands of 'birds of peace' in the past, of the pledge that war must not occur again.

For a few weeks before Christmas, shops set up displays of appropriate gifts for men, women and children (especially children). On Christmas day, families sit around the tree to exchange their gifts, whether it be at their house, relatives or friends. For some families who have Christmas trees, they'd gather the presents under the tree as we do in Australia.

Santa Kurohsu, as people call Santa in Japan is a popular character at Christmas time. I Japan Santa does not yet appear in person, like in shopping centres. He is only pictured as advertising foil. Santa is pictured as a kind old man, carring a round sack on his back. He is known to have eyes on the back of his head, so he can watch the children all year round.

Most churches will have their own special Christmas worship service on the nearest Sunday before the 25th of December and perhaps on Christmas Eve.

The story of Jesus born in a manger is fascinating to the little girls of Japan, for they love anything having to do with babies. In the scene in the nativity, many become familiar for the first time with a cradle, for Japanese babies have not slept traditionally in cradles. Others may even put on plays about the birth of Jesus.

Christianity in Japan is pretty low with 1% believing in Christ, with a few truly understanding the significance of the birth of Jesus. The Christian faith was first introduced in Japan by Jesuit and later by Franciscan missionaries in the 16th century. There were probably about 300 000 baptised believers in Japan. Unfortunately, the promising beginning met reverses, brought by rivalries between different groups of missionaries, political intrigues
(by Spanish and Portuguese government). The first victims were 6 Franciscan friars and 20 of them converts, who were crucified as Nagasaki on 5 February 1597. After a short time, other Christians were arrested, imprisoned for life, tortured and killed. The church was totally ignored by 1630. The church began to grow again after Commodore Perry opened Japan with America’s great white fleet. Missionaries poured into Japan to start Christianity again in Japan in the 20th century. People wanted to forgot about the happenings and started life again.

In some homes Christmas carols are sung gaily. One of the most poular song is Silent Night. Children are chosen to sing carols to the patients in hospitals. Some carols are sung in shops (some songs are sung in English).

New Years Eve
On New Year’s Eve, the house is cleaned thoroughly from top to bottom and decorated for the special day. Once everything is neat and tidy, the people of the house dress in their finest clothes. The father then marchers through the house followed by the rest of the family driving the evil spirits out. The father throws dried beans into every corner bidding evil spirits withdraw and good luck enter. The family then goes to the ‘Shinto Shrine’  to get God’s attention and seeks good fortunes.

Even though some of the facts about Christmas in Japan are familiar to those in Australia, there are some quite different. Christmas began in Japan at the beginning of the 20th century by the Christmas missionaries and is sure to keep on going, for every year there are many more new Christians joining the celebration.

by Madeline and Hayley

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