Christmas and Oshougatsu in Japan

Christmas and New Year (oshougatsu / お正月)

In America, people gather with family and friends to celebrate on Christmas Day. It’s also the season to start shopping for Christmas gift exchanges. Department stores and malls start to sell the Christmas stuff in November. It is the most festive time of the year. In fact, I have not even started shopping yet so I feel a little pressure around this time almost every year.

On the contrary to American Christmas traditions, Christmas in Japan is like Valentine’s Day. It is considered to be the most romantic day of the year in Japan. Couples usually dine at nice restaurants and enjoy the most romantic day. People even start looking for dates just before Christmas, so it is still one of the most celebrated holidays in Japan. Although Christmas is not an official holiday, towns are decorated for Christmas and department stores, especially jewelry stores, start Christmas sales. Typical Christmas gifts include jewelry and accessories, so it is a good time for jewelry market to maximize the Christmas market.

New Years is celebrated differently in Japan and America. New Year’s Eve is called “oomisoka / 大晦日” and New Year is “Oshougatsu – お正月”. Traditionally Japanese people spend time with their family on New Year’s Eve. We used to get together on the New Year’s Eve to start cooking and watch Kouhaku utagassen (music contest with famous musicians on TV of new years eve only).

At midnight, we eat Toshikoshisoba / 年越しそば and then received Otoshidama / お年玉 from my grandparents and relatives and then we went to a neighborhood temple to drink Amazake 甘酒 and drew a sacred lot (omiguchi おみくじ) to try our luck for this year. I remember being delighted when I got Daikichi (an excellent luck) because it meant that my new year will bring me a great luck.

It is very interesting to learn how we celebrate major holidays, Christmas and New Year, differently around the world. This year, I will exchange gifts with family and have Christmas dinner here in America. I hope to spend the next new year with my family in Japan though!

How do you celebrate New Year in your country? Share it with us and write a comment.

Click here if you want to read more posts from our guest author Yumi.


  1. Christmas in Japan is mainly for couples and is a romantic time of the year. Most young people think they must get a boyfriend/girlfriend by the 25th or they will miss out. New Year’s or Oshogatsu (正月) in Japan is one of the most important holidays. Most people will return home to spend the time together with their families. Many people visit a temple at Midnight on December 31st as Buddhist temples all around Japan ring their bells a total of 108 times to symbolize the 108 human sins in Buddhist belief and to get rid of the 108 worldly desires.

  2. Hi, Yumi. I have heard that KFC and Christmas cakes figure big into the Christmas season in Japan. Is that true?

  3. I really liked spending New Year’s Day in Japan with my wife’s family. I was amazed at the amount of food that her mom had cooked for the New Year’s Day meal, in the beautiful lacquered stacked boxes. Oishii!

    New Year’s Eve was watching the Red and White music show on TV. An amazing production, each number surpassing the once before it.

    We would also go out just before daybreak to see the first sunrise of the new year. They lived close to Chiba River, so we could climb the banks and get a great sunrise view. Then visit a temple.

    Thanks Yumi!


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