Holidays Around the World: Japan - The Traveling Gals

Holiday Traditions around the World: Christmas in JAPAN

Japan is predominately Shinto.   Shinto is an ethnic religion based in ritual practices to connect modern Japan with its ancient past.  It is said to have started in the sixth century, but there is no known scripture or founder so Christmas does not play much of a part in Japan.  The small amount of Christians in Japan celebrate Christmas with an ethnic twist.  For example, the nativity participants are dressed in traditional Japanese costume.  The Christmas tree is decorated with origami ornaments.  The Santa figure is an old man, Hoteiosho who carries a pack and is said to have eyes in the back of his head prompting the children to behave at all times!  Hoteiosho is considered a god or priest in Japanese culture.

Holidays Around the World: Japan - The Traveling Gals


The traditional New Year celebration of O-Shogatsu is the most important Japanese holiday of the year.  It is celebrated from January 1st – January 3rd.  Years are viewed completely separately so worries must be left behind in an old year and the new year must start fresh.  Homes are cleaned on New Year’s Eve to make way for a renewed start on January 1st.  Bonenkai parties (forget the year gatherings) are thrown throughout the country for offices, friends and families to leave their troubles behind and conclude any unfinished business.  Tokishoshi soba is known as the year crossing noodle and is served on New Year’s Eve to promote longevity. 

The Daruma doll is also an important part of New Year’s celebrations.  A Daruma doll is a good luck charm that looks like a punching bag.  It symbolizes patience and persistence based on the Japanese proverb “七転八起 which is read nana korobi ya oki.” which means” knocked down seven times and get up eight”!  It is based on Bodhidhmama who wore red robes and is said to have brought Zen Buddhism to Asia.  The Daruma is red with eyebrows that are represented as cranes and moustaches as turtles because these two animals lead long lives.  The doll has no pupils so the tradition is to make a wish and paint the pupil in the left eye on New Year’s and if your wish comes true by the end of the year, then you paint the right eye.

Holidays Around the World: Japan - The Traveling Gals

Daruma doll

New Year’s Day should be started free of stress and anger with a fully clean home.  The first New Year’s sunrise is traditionally viewed as it is representative of the whole year ahead.   On January 2nd, the Emperor makes a public appearance at the Tokyo Imperial Palace and the inner grounds are open to the public.  It is customary for families to visit their shrines or temples during this time.  It is called hatsumode.  Millions of people of people follow this ritual and temple bells are rung 108 times when the New Year arrives.

明けましておめでとう (Happy New Year!)

The Traveling Gals


Kyoto photo credit

Daruma doll photo credit

Read about other holidays around the world!