When I went to Japan, I was surprised to find that they celebrate Christmas because they have not embraced Christianity. However, the attitude in Japan is, “This is a nice holiday. The rest of the world celebrates it, so we should too,” and they do. They leave all the religious trappings out and just enjoy the rest of it.
In Japanese homes, usually Christmas is celebrated because of the children. As I said in my blog about how Koreans celebrate Christmas, there is a philosophy in the Far East that came from Tibet about the children. They think the very small kids and babies are just so cute and should be left to do what they want. At times, you begin to feel like Japanese and Korean small kids are brats and worry about their futures. However, about the age of 8, the philosophy tells them it is time to crack down and make these little guys tow the line, and not just a little. They become very strict about that age. Japan and Korea are both Confucian cultures and make the teachers responsible for teaching the kids the difference between right and wrong. They also have grandmothers and grandfathers who are very active in trying to make these kids be good because ultimately the ball passes to the oldest because they have more authority than anyone else in the Confucian model for a society. Whoever is older is responsible to make the others be good. My Japanese son in law’s grandmother really tried hard to put him together. He said he really fought with his grandmother, but in the end, she was really helping him grow up to be a descent human being, and he really loved her for it.
If a Japanese home no longer has children in it, they won’t have a Christmas tree, but Japanese believe that Santa Claus should come to all the children and that all the children should have Christmas trees. They, like many other countries, like to spoil their kids at Christmas with gifts overflowing under the Christmas tree.
If you work at a business, a school, or an office in Japan, there may not be a Christmas party, but there will be a party. It feels like a Christmas party because it is the right time of year, but that is not what they call it. They say it is a time that everyone who works at the same place is supposed to put an end to any disagreements they had during the year and everyone is supposed to be friends. They want to end the old year in the right way, resolving all the problems.
When I worked in the Japanese juku (private language school/cram school), all the teachers dressed up and met at a nice restaurant. We had a very nice dinner together, and there were Christmas decorations and Christmas music playing, but they were not calling it a Christmas party. They were simply following the Japanese tradition of resolving everything that went wrong all year before they even thought about a new year.
When I was a student, I learned from the Japanese students that it is very common to put origami paper ornaments on their Christmas trees. Some of them fold bright pieces of paper in to paper balls and paper birds and put them all over their Christmas trees.
When I had a Japanese exchange student at our house in America one year, she was overwhelmed at Christmas time. She couldn’t believe all the gifts! She told me they usually put up a Christmas tree at her house, but she wasn’t used to all the gifts! She said she truly liked the American Christmas more than the Japanese Christmas and planned on celebrating Christmas in Japan the same way we did in America when she went home. The Japanese are what the culture experts call “the greatest copy cats in the world.” When the Japanese see something they like, it doesn’t bother them to copy it, and usually, they not only copy it, but improve on it. Some examples of things like this are: 1) The Chinese invented paper and shared it with Japan, so Japan invented the art of paper ford, origami. 2) America invented the video games with Atari, and the Japanese saw it and said, “Hey! This is really neat! However, we can do better, so they came up with the Nintendo game systems. 3) There are numerous dishes that come from China or Korea, and the Japanese got them and changed them, and what the Japanese made was better. The Japanese just flat copy and improve. That is why the cultural experts call them “the best copy cats in the world.”
Japan may not be a Christian country at all, but who doesn’t like Christmas? I understand them wanting to celebrate Christmas even though Japan has never embraced Christianity. I understand them copying things that are good. Everyone likes Christmas decorations. Everyone likes Christmas presents. Everyone likes the feeling of peace and good will toward men, and that is what those end of the year forgiveness parties are all about. They have adopted the season without the religious significance.