My first Christmas in Japan


I couldn’t forget my first Christmas in Japan.

I arrived there as a young student in October 1996 not knowing the language, culture or traditions. The first weeks at school were hectic, almost unbearable then a surprise field trip to Kyoto came. My very first Christmas in Japan, in the historic city of Kyoto!

The city was spectacular and Christmas-sy with beautiful trees with grand illuminations. I imagined huge fireworks at the strike of midnight because having previously lived in a country where Christmas season is big, festive and fireworks lighting up the sky at midnight on Christmas eve, I thought it was always like that everywhere. And, this is Japan.

I expected much too much.

I opened my hotel room curtain at 11:45 pm only to see the streets looking dull with only a few young couples holding hands and a man trudging across holding a sake* cup to keep him warm that cold night.

My anticipation heightened.

Snow fell on my frosty hotel window at midnight, trees rustled outside with the cold winter wind. I must be wrong. This can’t be! 12:05 am. Except for the dancing lights reflected in the snow covered ground, the place stood still. The thought quickly crept up on me: nothing happens in Japan on Christmas night!

I wasn’t ready for this! Had I known!

When the next December rolled in, I was ready with a plane ticket that would take me home to the Philippines. The bright lights just wouldn’t suffice.


This post has been entered into the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.

*sake is Japanese traditional rice wine. They can be bought in disposable glass cups in convenient stores all over Japan. Popular during winter.


    1. Hi Wenchy, thank you! The theme is supposed to be about festivals, Christmas, New Year…my entry is not ‘festive’ but I wanted to share my first Christmas experience in Japan, as it happened.



  1. I must say that I am fascinated by the Japanese culture but it’s pretty strange they don’t use fireworks being so close to China (which invented fireworks).
    Anyway, I can imagine that they are doing something traditional, because in my opinion Japan is one of the countries that best kept it’s culture intact and continued it.
    .-= Alex@Jocuri´s last blog ..Dansuri break dance =-.



  2. So funny – i can imagine you clapping your hands with glee and then…

    You’ve just reminded me of a christmas break i took with wayne (before we had kids) to Israel… home of the nativity we’re thinking…not that i’m particularly religious but i wanted to re-visit Israel after spending my gap year on a kibbutz in the heart of the Negev desert…

    We spent Christmas Day in Jerusalem with our guesthouse owner and he told us lots of people make the same mistake… how naive!



    1. When you’re young and away from your family for the first time on Christmas, the loneliness seem to double. I love Christmas lights too and Japan is beautiful in December but then again, it lacks the warmth of the real Christmas spirit.



  3. Hi Grace – how interesting! Loved your post! And of course it fits our theme perfectly. Christmas in Australia is actually very low key, no fireworks, and not many people up at midnight – we eat a big lunch there, so people laze around the rest of the day – New Year’s Eve is when there is partying and fireworks. So I was actually surprised recently in Krakow to discover Christmas Eve to be the big event: families eat a feast together at home early in the evening, then rest and then everyone goes out for midnight mass. We did the same and the streets went from being deserted in the afternoon to being crowded at midnight. Amazing.

    Thanks for entering! Best of luck!



    1. Thank you for reading my post. Christmas in the Philippines is like the one you described in Krakow including the midnight mass. The one I experienced in Japan was shockingly lonely to say the least. Christmas there is actually for couples (this I learned later) – they have dinner and/or stay at hotels to spend time with each other.

      In the Phils, couples spend Christmas apart from each other to be with their respective families!

      Anyway, there are so many many great entries coming when you extended the deadline but win or lose, I really just wanted to write about my first Christmas in Japan! 🙂



  4. Hi Grace,

    Thanks for sharing this post..I really enjoy reading your article.. Celebrating holidays in other country is such a adventurous things happened in my life. I also love to celebrate holidays in different places… I hope you will continue sharing your experiences…Good luck..
    .-= Jevelme´s last blog ..Presale Time Warner Cable =-.



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