Christmas in Japan in the Time of Covid
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Christmas in Japan in the Time of Covid

By Elizabeth Gibson for The J-Pop Exchange

Christmas has only been widely celebrated in Japan for the last few decades. The winter festivities inspired by the holiday aren't seen as religious, as there aren't many Christians in Japan. Instead, Christmas is a time for friends and couples to have parties, make plans to meet up for dinner, and celebrate as much as they can.

Given the unprecedented times, get-togethers and parties will be in short supply this year.

Here are some other ways the coronavirus pandemic has already affected this Christmas in Japan:

Santa cancels annual Christmas visit to Japan due to Covid-19

For the first time in three decades, Finland’s certified “Santa Claus Foundation” (yes, that's a real organization) will not be sending one of their own to Japan due to the pandemic. Last year, the certified Kris Kringle was greeted at Narita Airport before continuing on to daycare centers and other events, where he handed out gifts to children and joined in local festivities. “Unfortunately, the new coronavirus has made it impossible for Santa to come,” a Finnair representative said to The Mainichi Shimbun. “When things get better, we want to bring him over again. Although it's difficult now, we hope people will take care of their health, and have a happy Christmas.”

English-language Christmas PSA in Japan causes confusion

A public service announcement paid for by department store group Seibu Sogo has been raising some eyebrows. Watch the video for yourself here.

The advertisement's bold tagline suggests to citizens, "Stay positive for Christmas." However, what would normally be viewed as encouragement is a little different during a pandemic. Some people’s immediate interpretation of the word “positive” isn’t in the sense of “happy,” but “infected."

“We’re at the point now where advertising production companies really should have two or three people who’re really good at foreign languages on their design teams," said one online commenter.

Outdoor winter illuminations still going strong

Winter illuminations around Christmas and New Year have become an increasingly popular attraction in cities across Japan. Typically open between November and December (although some are open longer), these shows in parks and in city centers have millions of colorful LED lights displayed in trees and around buildings, turning Japanese cities -- from Tokyo to Nagasaki -- into sparkling winter wonderlands.

Most of the organized winter illuminations boast online about following recommended guidelines for outdoor events to stop the spread of coronavirus, including limiting the number of people to one area, keeping restaurants and shops well ventilated, and encouraging mask usage.

Sagamiko Resort’s Pleasure Forest theme park, in the city of Sagamihara just outside of Tokyo, is hosting their annual Sagamiko Illumillion, and even going bigger than last year. This year, they’re adding a special Pokémon section complete with dazzling, lit-up wild Pokémon scattered around the grounds, each in their native habitats.

One of the first winter illumination events ever started in Japan was the Kobe Luminarie, although it has been canceled this year due to the pandemic. Having started in 1995 in the wake of the Great Hanshin Earthquake, the vibrant light displays were designed by Japanese and Italian artists as a memorial to the victims and meant to inspire hope in recovery.

Christmastime means big business for restaurants

Chain restaurants like Starbucks and Krispy Kreme have been quick this year to jump on the Christmas bandwagon.

As soon as the Halloween festivities were over, Starbucks released its 2020 holiday season drink and food menu, as well as Christmas-themed merchandise, like mugs and coffee tumblers. Some of the drink items include Berry x Berry Rare Cheese Frappuccino and Macadamia Toffee Latte, while food items include Christmas Stollen and White Mocha Cake.

This year’s doughnut offerings at Krispy Kreme include cute Christmas characters piped onto their cream-filled confections, like a caramel Christmas bear, a chocolate snowman, and a Santa Claus doughnut filled with strawberry milk cream.


More by Elizabeth Gibson:

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