Christmas in Japan is a unique experience. The elaborate light displays and Christmas decorations that adorn many Tokyo streets in December are enough to leave any casual observer thinking that the holiday has strong roots in the country. Dig a little deeper, however, and some interesting differences come to light.

Few schools or workplaces recognize December 25 as a holiday, while many regard the occasion as less of a family affair, and more of a jolly Valentine’s Day, with couples crowding into restaurants around the country for “romantic Christmas dinner.”

While the country has certainly embraced some of the more visual traditions of the holiday, other customs appear to have been somewhat lost in translation: KFC fried chicken is a popular choice for a Christmas meal, and for much of the population the holiday feels incomplete without a slice of Japan’s unique creamy take on “Christmas cake.”

Christmas in Japan: To party or not to party?!

To gain a better understanding of how Japan celebrates Christmas, Rakuten Research surveyed 1,000 Rakuten members between the ages of 20 and 70 on their plans this season.

The numbers revealed an interesting split among the population: 40.7% of those surveyed indicated that they would celebrate the occasion with a party at home, a restaurant meal or a Christmas event, compared to 42.7% who had no plans to do anything special. While the less enthusiastic responses came mostly from older generations, the statistic still shows that Christmas hasn’t completely captured everyone’s attention.

Presents also play a smaller role in Japanese Christmas, with over a third of respondents stating they had no intention of giving or receiving any gifts. Among those who did want presents, a meal out at a restaurant was the most desired option.

Crowdsourcing ideas for Christmas alone

45.5% of respondents planned to spend Christmas with their partners, followed by 25.7% with their kids. But with such a focus on spending time with loved ones, one consistently large segment doing it differently came to light: 20.9% of respondents said they are spending Christmas alone this year, a similar level to 2016.

This same trend was noticed by Rakuten’s online shopping mall Rakuten Ichiba, which responded with a cheery take on “Hitori-mas” (hitori is Japanese for “alone”), with a page collecting suggestions from users on alternative ways to enjoy Christmas solo.

Rakuten Ichiba's hitori-mass page includes suggestions on alternative ways to enjoy Christmas solo.

Rakuten Ichiba’s hitori-mas page includes suggestions on alternative ways to enjoy Christmas solo. Illustrations: Rakuten Ichiba

Suggestions ranged from enjoying seasonal food (an entire seafood basket to yourself!) to getting nasty household chores out of the way (broomstick-microphone performance optional). Some users suggested that the holiday offered a great excuse to let loose, dress up and go a bit wild, while others claimed that Christmas was the perfect opportunity for a kind of survival exercise, recommending spending the day without electricity, gas or running water to prove that they could truly get by alone.

Japan’s relatively short Christmas history has allowed for some creative interpretations of the holiday, regardless of whether it is spent with family, significant others or alone. But despite the many cultural differences, one thing remains clear: A Christmas alone doesn’t need to be a blue Christmas.