Christmas Day in Tokyo is not what you might expect. Businesses remain open. Families don’t come together from near and far to overeat, watch sports, or play newly unwrapped board games.
In fact, it’s pretty much business as usual. Restaurants and department stores open at their normal time, subways run on their regular schedule, and students have a typical day at class.
While Christmas in Tokyo doesn’t have the same intensity you might be familiar with, you can still find plenty of memory-making ways to capture the magic of the season. If you’re in Tokyo on December 25th don’t despair, we’ve got you covered for things to do.
Compared to western traditions, Christmas may seem like something trivial in Japan, but they take Christmas lights seriously. They take ‘illuminations’ (イルミネーション) – the Japanese word for elaborate seasonal lighting – so seriously, in fact, that you’ll find prominent displays all over the city.
The broad, tree-lined Omotesando Avenue in Shibuya, leading to Tokyo’s famous Meiji Shrine, is a must-walk for Christmas magic. The prestigious business district Marunouchi (丸の内), conveniently located between Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace, is a breathtaking path, perfect for a Christmas Day stroll. Tokyo midtown, the ‘city-within-a-city’ in Shiodome, spares no expense in their “Midtown Christmas” sweep of heart-stirring LED lights. Their popular ‘Starlight Garden’ display is an ocean of blue lights that feels ethereally Christmassy.
You can enjoy steaming cups of delicious hot chocolate, handmade ornaments, German grilled sausages and mulled wine at Roppongi Hill’s Christmas Market every day from 11am to 9pm throughout December.
Christmas for couples
While Christmas in the UK is more of a family event, Christmas in Japan is a night for couples. And Christmas Eve is the most romantic night of the year.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a spur-of-the-moment hotel room in Tokyo on Christmas Eve. It’s the most popular night for weddings. Every hotel will be bursting with brides and grooms on December 24th. And that also means most of Tokyo’s poshest restaurants (there are 551 Michelin Star dining establishments in Tokyo alone) are booked up.
So what do you do if you can’t get a reservation for you and your sweetheart on Christmas in Tokyo?
Go to KFC
Yes. You read that correctly. Kentucky Fried Chicken.
In a tradition that dates all the way back to 1974, and KFC’s ‘Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!’ (Kentucky for Christmas!) advertising campaign, a bucket of ‘Christmas Chicken’ is the must-have meal for the big day. In fact, it’s in such demand that if you want to enjoy the Colonel’s finest on December 25th you’ll need to reserve your order two weeks in advance.
You won’t be disappointed by plump, perfectly seasoned chicken (that doesn’t taste like KFC from anywhere else), salad, and cheesecake. If you haven’t yet tried Japanese cheesecake, you need to. KFC is an American fast food chain that’s become a quintessential Japanese tradition, and one you need to experience if you get the chance.
When in doubt, shop
Independent and chain department stores start their winter sales early in December in Japan. And the closer it gets to the end of the year the bigger the discount. If you’re shopping for souvenirs or gifts, or are just interested in treating yourself to a little holiday ‘retail therapy’, you can’t do much better than shopping in Tokyo on Christmas Day.