What does Tokyo get up to during this annual holiday? Here's what to expect if you'll be in the city come December 25th.
For Tokyo residents themselves, the Christmas holiday can be a bit of a letdown. There are no days off, no big family gatherings, no 12-course meals, and no bickering over board games or which TV programs to watch. Instead, it's business as usual, with shops and restaurants open, and little fanfare by way of season's greetings. But while Christmas is casually celebrated in Japan, there are still plenty of ways to capture a bit of the spirit. Here's what to do in Tokyo if you're in town.
Department Store Sales
Even though presents are rarely exchanged, department stores start rolling out winter sales in December, and there are loads of bargains to be had through December 25th. Prices drop by 10 percent to 30 percent, with bigger deals on offer during the New Year sales. This is a great chance to stock up on souvenirs and belated gifts for the folks back home.
Have a Date Night
Rather than a family event (which comes for the Japanese at the New Year), Christmas is seen as a romantic date night for couples. This means that the city's poshest restaurants are open and doing a brisk trade in candlelit, wine-soaked meals. Cranberry sauce and stuffing will be in short supply; if you're looking for a traditional meal, try Roti ($52 dinner buffet) or the Hobgoblin pub ($32 for three courses); reservations recommended.
Otherwise, try the Japanese take on Christmas dinner: a fried chicken bucket from KFC and a "Christmas cake" of strawberry shortcake with a Santa Claus decoration on top. Book early for the fried chicken: KFC is in such demand at this time that people reserve their takeout weeks in advance.
Take in the Lights
Something that Japan excels in at this time of year are its "illuminations," the native word for the elaborate holiday light displays that pop up all over the city. Omotesando and Marunouchi both make for an enchanted stroll, while Tokyo Midtown and Canyon D'Azur in Shiodome pull out all the stops with exciting shows.
The Roppongi Hills illumination also has a Christmas market with hot chocolate, mulled wine, German grilled sausages, and handmade ornaments (daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. for the month preceding Christmas); the same goes for Hibiya Park (daily from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the two weeks leading up to Christmas). It may not be the same as celebrating Santa, but it's equally enchanting.
Selena Hoy is based in Tokyo and covers the Japan beat for Travel + Leisure.