In the U.S. or Japan, it’s the most wonderful time of year

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In the U.S. or Japan, it’s the most wonderful time of year

by: Jun Sakahira | .
Stripes Okinawa | .
published: December 28, 2016

As many tourist spots in Japan begin to beam with holiday lights, we prepare once again for the year to begin anew.

While Americans enjoy the holiday season with family and friends, Japan has its own unique ways of celebrating. Despite the majority of Japanese not practicing Christianity, many of them enjoy celebrating Christmas.

In Japan, Christmas is considered a date night for couples, like Valentine’s Day in America. People plan ahead and snatch up reservations for nice restaurants. In some homes, Santa Claus might visit to drop off presents for children, while in others just enjoy fried chicken from KFC.

When I was young, Christmas was not as big of a deal as it currently is in Japan. Nowadays, the holiday songs and illuminations are all over the place beginning in mid-November every year. The commercialization was always there, but it was never this prevalent before my study abroad days.

When I spent my high school senior year in the U.S., I stayed with a family that celebrated Christmas, and it sure was eye opening. I didn’t realize so many American families buy a real tree for Christmas, and the number of presents each person got was far beyond my expectations.

What I found important, above all, is that I don’t often see this kind of family togetherness in today’s Japanese families.

The New Year’s holiday has typically been the time for family gathering in Japan. Traditionally, Japanese families go to shrines or temples to wish for a good year. Many eat osechi (special food) and the children get excited to receive otoshidama (New Year’s money). Many stores and offices would close for the first three days of the year as families observed the holiday. This is the one of only holidays in which people go back home to see their relatives.

During my childhood, I remember playing with traditional Japanese toys like kites, tops and some card games during the New Year’s holiday. But today, the commercialization seems to have changed New Years in my opinion. Now, many stores open during the holiday, much like Thanksgiving night in the U.S. This means less family time, and although many families still get together and observe the New Year, modern Japanese holidays seem to have less meaning than those in America.

Even so, this holiday season is the time that reminds me of the importance of family ties and friendship. How Japanese people celebrate holidays has evolved as the country adopted customs from the West. Although various religious events coexist, many people still value some Japanese traditions like making wishes at shrines or temples.

During my college years, I was fortunate to have friends who invited me to their families’ Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am very grateful for their hospitality, and the holiday time I spent with my friends and their families has a special place in my heart even years later. Even when I was away from home, I could feel the importance of holidays.

Not everybody can celebrate this time of the year with their loved ones and the customs taken root in each country vary. Regardless of how you celebrate holidays, the bottom line is that we all celebrate the year going out and the year coming in.

This is clearly the most wonderful time of the year!