We leave Christmas in Jamaica behind us and head almost due West across the Pacific Ocean for 12,912km to Japan.
Made up of an archipelago of 6,852 islands, Japan is home to a population of over 126 million people. The majority of the land (97%) is on 4 islands.
It's a diverse country with forest covering around 69% of the land, it's home to 110 active volcanoes and plenty of earthquakes every year - over 1,500.
It's certainly a quirky country with the world's deepest underwater post box and a motorway that goes through the 5th, 6th and 7th floors of the Gate Tower Building!
So, how do they celebrate Christmas in Japan?
Japan's 2 main religions are Shinto and Buddhism. Christianity accounts for less than 2% of the population.
Most public places are decorated with fantastic festive light displays, including famous landmarks. Artificial Christmas trees and ornaments to decorate them are popular, although most people in the cities will have a very small tree since there isn’t much room in most Japanese apartments (especially in Tokyo). Ornaments used to be more traditional like small fans, paper lanterns, origami birds and animals, but now more western decorations like plastic baubles are used.
Exchanging gifts and cards is popular. Christmas isn’t really seen as a religious festival, instead it’s just seen as a celebration to spread happiness.
Christmas Eve is celebrated more than Christmas Day and is considered a romantic day (similar to Valentine’s Day) where couples will spend the day together, exchange gifts, go for a walk to see the Christmas lights and then have a romantic meal in a restaurant. As Christmas is not a public holiday in Japan, many businesses will consider it a normal working day, however most schools will be closed (because it’s the New Year school break rather than a Christmas holiday).
Beethoven’s 9th symphony and its final act ‘Ode to Joy’ is very popular around Christmas time, often sang by choirs in German as the song was made popular in Japan by German prisoners of WW1.
Many people in Tokyo will visit Disneyland Tokyo at Christmas time (November 14th – December 25th) to see all the decorations and parades. Children’s parties are held by some people with dancing and games. Santa-san (Mr Santa) may bring some gifts, Hoteiosho (Japanese Buddhist God of good fortune) is also a gift-bringer but isn’t really associated with Christmas. ‘O Shogatsu’ (the Japanese New Year) is celebrated from December 31st – January 4th which shares more similarities to Western Christmas than Japanese Christmas does. There’s a 3D illumination show on Osaka Castle during the Christmas period. There are also Christmas markets that sell Christmas ornaments and mulled wine.
Fried chicken is the most popular food on Christmas Day. In 1974, KFC ran an advertising campaign called ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ which made it a very popular place to have a Christmas meal both in and take-out. A more traditional food/dessert is Japanese Christmas cake which is usually a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream. Other cake decorations may be flowers, trees, and a figure of Santa.
Our next destination looks at Christmas in Kazakhstan.