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Happy Holidays 2011 December 6, 2011

Posted by Dru in Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Happy Holidays 2011” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-L9

It is another year and another Christmas.  As I get older, I notice that times goes faster and faster.  I can’t believe it has been a year since I last wrote this holiday post.  It is nearly a tradition to talk about the Christmas season now.  Unfortunately there is nothing left to talk about for Tokyo’s Christmas.  In my previous posts, see links below, I have mentioned the tradition of Christmas in Japan.  In reality, nothing has changed over the years.  Things are still going strong and people just party like it’s 1999.  It is a little difficult to find new things and I’m sure I’ll discover something, but generally speaking there are no new unique developments in Japan.

The most popular thing to do these days is to go around Tokyo and look at the various Christmas light displays.  There are several places that are now traditional places to visit.  Omotesando is one of the first places one should visit.  It is often credited as the place where Christmas Illuminations regained popularity in Tokyo around early the 2000s.  After they lit up the main street from Harajuku Station to Omotesando Station, lots of people flocked to Omotesando to enjoy the lights as well as do a lot of shopping. Most areas now do the same thing and it is almost a competition to see who can attract more people.  Unfortunately most of the displays haven’t changed much since they were first introduced.  The signs change and any lighting that is associated with a specific year has changed but the actual displays are generally the same.  It is a bit of a shame that they don’t become more creative but that is how things are in Tokyo.  People have an idea, make it possible then reuse it until it becomes stale.  Rather than revamping things so it stays fresh, they recycle things too often.  Thankfully some areas do change things up.  Christmas trees tend to be different each year and most weak displays are added upon each year until they become grand displays.  Some areas do change slightly each year but as mentioned the basic designs don’t change.

Other areas of mention are Shinjuku, Shiodome, Marunouchi, Roppongi, Korakuen, and Odaiba.  Most of the displays in these areas are very similar to previous years and the locations are the same.  It is possible that some of them will change but I haven’t heard anything about new displays this year.  Some areas are somewhat new but they tend to be on the small side in their first year.  Smaller areas of Tokyo will see light displays and they do tend to grow a bit each year.  Smaller areas don’t have the money to build a large display in one year so it takes a few years to build it up.  No matter where you go in Tokyo, you are sure to see Christmas decorations and lighting.  It can feel a bit commercial but it does put one into the Christmas mood.  Unfortunately, due to the greater importance of New Year’s decorations, after the shops close on Christmas day, the decorations are quickly removed and replaced with the New Year’s displays overnight.  It can feel a bit depressing at first but the thought of an exciting new year is wonderful.

Merry Christmas everyone and I hope you all have a safe and happy holidays wherever you are.  For those who aren’t Christian, Christmas is barely a religious holiday anymore so I hope you can still enjoy it.  (^^)

Happy Holidays 2011 is part of a series of posts each year talking about the year end holiday season in Japan.  To read more, please venture to the other posts below:

Happy Holidays (2010) November 23, 2010

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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Happy Holidays (2010)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-x5

Happy Holidays (2010)

It’s that time of year again. November 1st has come and all of the Christmas decorations are being put up one by one. Within the first two weeks of November, almost all of the Christmas decorations will have been put up by most of the shops and Christmas songs will be playing in almost all of the shops. As in the past two years, I have mentioned that Christmas is a time for couples, drinking parties, and then a change into the New Year season where we enjoy time with our families and a lot of shopping. It’s a great time of year, but one that has a bit of mixed emotions for me. This will be my fifth year in Japan, and the fifth Christmas away from my family. I have gotten used to it, but the fact that I don’t have a Christmas tree, nor will I exchange presents makes it a little sad.

In the last year, I have learned a few new things about Christmas in Japan, and I have seen things change slightly each year. It appears that each year brings with it new traditions. Many children receive gifts on Christmas, but this usually stops around the time they enter school. Some friends will continue to give gifts, but this usually stops by the time they enter college. Unfortunately, the true meaning of Christmas is completely lost on most Japanese people. I have had conversations with various people about Christmas, and they tend to be surprised that in Canada, even non-Christians celebrate Christmas to some degree. The concept of Christmas is completely lost on them. While it is true that Christmas is currently a Christian holiday with Christian symbolism, I am constantly teaching them that the deeper meaning of Christmas is slightly different. I grew up in a Catholic family and raised going to a Catholic school. I had learned the Christian meaning of Christmas, but having grown up in Canada, I also learned the deeper meaning of Christmas. I prefer to think of Christmas as a time of family. It’s a time to get together and, similarly to Thanksgiving, give thanks to your family and show them how much you love them. I had mentioned that Japanese people tend to reverse Christmas and New Year’s, and it’s still very true. When I tell them this, many will understand for the first time, but many won’t completely understand. I find Christmas to be very easy to explain, but to understand it completely, it can be difficult.

The commercialization of Christmas in Tokyo is very rampant. Wherever you go, you will see Christmas lights, Christmas trees, and various Christmas decorations. Unlike Canada and America, the huge sales leading up to Christmas are barely existent. It’s common to see a few sales, but due to the huge sales over the New Year holidays, it’s tough to put on big sales when people are waiting that extra month for the huge sales. In 2008, I mentioned the traditions of a Japanese Christmas. It was all about boyfriends and girlfriends. They go out for a date on New Year’s Eve and enjoy a nice Christmas cake. For families, or couples who have been together for a long time, it involves Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Christmas cake. Generally, the department stores are completely full on Christmas Eve, and there are long lines outside KFC. Many people pre-order their chicken and pick it up at the allotted time. It has never sat right with me. In fact, Christmas back home doesn’t really sit right with me as things are becoming over commercialized. In order to combat the lack of Christmas spirit, one of my favourite things to do is to watch a video commentary by Mike Mcartle, a local Vancouver reporter who does good will stories. He tells a good story on the meaning of Christmas and it has been running for years as a tradition on Christmas night. I hope you enjoy it, and if you want to enjoy Christmas in Tokyo, follow the links below for information.


Past blog posts:

Christmas 2009:  http://wp.me/piUxk-jM

Christmas 2008:  http://wp.me/piUxk-5H

New Year 2009/2010:  http://wp.me/piUxk-6c

Christmas Light information:

Christmas Light Locations (All of Japan): http://www.rurubu.com/season/winter/illumination/

Christmas Light Locations (Tokyo): http://www.rurubu.com/season/winter/illumination/list.asp?KenCD=13

Note: These sites are only in Japanese.  You can check each one individually if you can’t read Japanese.  The three boxes are, in order, “There is a Christmas Tree”, “There is an event”, and “There are fireworks”.  Unfortunately, the events will depend on the location, and I am not sure when the fireworks might be.

Here is a bunch of locations that I find interesting.  Unfortunately, they don’t usually change much over the years, especially now that the economy has been bad for the last few years.  Things may change in the next few years.

Lightopia 2010 (Marunouchi District @ Tokyo Station)


This Christmas Illumination is pretty big.  It spans several blocks and includes the various buildings in the Marunouchi area.  Walking along Naka-dori or heading over to the Imperial Palace, you’ll see thousands of lights.  Naka-dori also has various art sculptures.  While the event is only for a week, the buildings along Naka-dori are still beautiful to visit during the season.

Caretta Blue (Shinbashi)


This one is not as amazing, but the wave of blue is stunning.  Be sure to go as a couple and get your fortune as a couple.  This was popular last year, so expect a line if you do visit.  Be sure to also head towards the old Shinbashi Station building as they have a Christmas train made of lights.



While the link is for Odaiba Decks, the entire shopping plaza and the various hotels in the area have many light displays.  It’s still a couples location, but the tree is somewhat unique and the background is truly Tokyo.




Both Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown have vast displays.  They have one of the best displays and they seem to add something new to it each year.  Unfortunately, things haven’t really changed over the years, rather they just get larger.



Along the west side, you’ll be able to see various lights at some of the building plazas, but the main action is along Shinjuku Southern Terrace.  They have a huge display each year, but do be aware that it will be busy.  You can also visit Lumine for their roof top light display too.


If you like high fashion shopping, a stop in Omotesando is a must.  They have a large crystal tree inside Omotesando Hills and the entire street is lit up with Christmas lights.  If I remember correctly, they were the first to start the Christmas light trend in Tokyo.



The Showa Kinen Park is the only place this year with fireworks.  There may be other places that are announced over the coming days, but so far, I haven’t heard anything yet.


Happy Holidays December 7, 2009

Posted by Dru in Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Happy Holidays” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-jM


Last year was my first year with this blog and I talked about the differences between a Japanese Christmas and a Western Christmas.  It’s a little early for Christmas, but with December having started already, it’s the holiday season.  The actual Christmas season starts on November 1st, and gets into full swing on December 1st.  It also signals the party season.  If you have ever visited Japan in December, it’s highly advised that you be careful when taking the trains after 10pm.  In fact, you should always be careful after 10pm.  It is this time when people start to make their way home after a night of drinking.  The end of the year is a very important time for Japanese people to celebrate the end and have one last party.

Bonnenkai is essentially a Christmas Party, or for non-secular people, a Year End Party.  Offices typically have at least one party at this time, but depending on the company, this can increase significantly.  In North America, there tends to be an average of three Year End Parties, at least from my own experiences.  There is usually one for the department, one for the company, and possibly one with friends.  Sometimes, this is the only time to meet old friends as people can be busy with their work and their own personal lives.  On the extreme end, people could have up to three parties each week, or about 12 in the month if they have to have a bonnenkai with their customers.  Needless to say, this can put a lot of stress on a person’s liver.  Typically, restaurants are busy over the weekend, and there are always special bonnenkai deals to be had if you book ahead.  Be aware that sometimes they are not better than ordering on your own.

Other than bonnenkais, the only thing that happens during the holiday season is to head around town and see all of the Christmas lights.  It has become very popular for different shopping areas to have their own light display.  As always, Ginza is a hot spot for lights, although it’s not spectacular.  Roppongi is generally a more interesting area as they have the Tokyo Midtown, the Roppongi Hills areas for lights.  This year, there will also be another Lightopia event in Marunouchi along with the typical Marunouchi lights.  If you have seen the Christmas lights in the last few years, especially in Tokyo, there won’t be too many new displays.  Each year, there tends to be one major new light display, while the others are only slightly updated.  The general designs tend to be the same.  Below will be a link showcasing the major areas where you can see some lights.


Christmas Light Locations (All of Japan):  http://www.rurubu.com/season/winter/illumination/
Christmas Light Locations (Tokyo):  http://www.rurubu.com/season/winter/illumination/list.asp?KenCD=13

Note:  The three boxes in the key are, in order, “There is a Christmas Tree”, “There is an event”, and “There are fireworks”.  Unfortunately, the events will depend on the location, and I am not sure when the fireworks might be.  There are only three places where there are fireworks:  Tokyo Dome (December 14th at 7pm for about 3 minutes), Toyosu Lala Port (December 24th at 8:10pm), and Tachikawa’s Showa Kinen Park (December 19th and 24th at 8pm for about 5 minutes).

Tokyo Dome Illumination Information:  http://www.tokyo-dome.co.jp/event/illumi/index.htm
Tokyo Dome (English):  http://www.tokyo-dome.co.jp/e/
Lalaport Fireworks Information:  http://toyosu.lalaport.jp/special_event/
Showa Kinen Park Winter Illumination Information:  http://www.showakinenpark.go.jp/2009winter/wvi2009.html
Showa Kinen Park (English):  http://www.showakinenpark.go.jp/english/index.htm
Mapple Ilumination List (Tokyo page, you can surf to the Japan list page):  http://www.mapple.net/sp_illumi/list.asp?PREF=13
Nihon Kanko Illumination List (Tokyo page, you can surf to the Japan list page):  http://illumi.nihon-kankou.or.jp/list/result.php?m=1&c=03&c2=13

Note:  All sites are Japanese unless specified.  If you are curious about locations in a specific area, please feel free to ask with a comment.  I’ll do my best to provide a small list based on these sites.


Happy New Year January 1, 2009

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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Happy New Year” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-6c

Happy New Year!!!

It is now 2009, in Tokyo.  This is the first year of my blog,  but my 4th New Year in Japan.  New Year’s in Japan is a very different experience compared to Canada.  I’d say that it’s much more boring.  Of course, if you have a lot of foreigner friends, and they happen to be in Japan at the same time, it can be fun, but generally, there isn’t much to see or do.  I recommend avoiding this time if you are planning to visit Japan.  There are only a few exceptions.

In Japan, you generally have 5 days of holidays before you head back to work.  This season, we’ll have 6 days, due to the orientation of the week.  Many people will actually have 9 days as Monday is also a holiday.  Traditionally, the end of the year is spent doing many things.  It begins on December first.  Many people go to bonenkai parties.  These are essentially the same as any other Year End Party or Christmas Party, however, in Japan, these are still a little different.  Some people will go to a party every week.  Others, just one.  The most I heard was someone had to go to a party almost everyday before the holidays.  These Year End Parties aren’t easy either.  While it may sound easy, you have to remember that you are drinking until you nearly throw-up, and quite often you go beyond that.  You also have to function normally at work the next day as well.  While you may think that these parties can be “skipped”, many times, people go to parties that their clients are holding.  If they don’t go to these parties, they could be seen as not being a team player, or not caring for their own clients.

The actual holidays start around December 30th.  The end of the year is generally a very busy time to take a train or plane out of Japan.  If you plan to go from Tokyo to Osaka, or Hokkaido, and vice versa, you will have a very tough time.  Prices are increased for planes, and chances of getting a spot on a Shinkansen could be impossible.   Everyone usually goes home at least once during the holidays.  The best people go home for the entire holiday, whether they want to or not.  The other major thing to do for the last two days of the year is to clean up.  Unlike North America, Japanese people do their “Spring Cleaning” at the end of the year.  In this time, people tend to just throw away old junk and clean behind the shelves.  Depending on the house, it could take a day, or it could take five days.

On New Year’s Eve, there are no parties.  If you are a foreigner, you can always have your own party, but if you are planning to go out, good luck.  Most shops close early, and almost nothing is open after 9 pm.   There is only one interesting thing to do, if it’s your first time in Japan.  Go to a temple or shrine.  Meiji Jingu is the most famous in the West.  Thousands of people go throughout the night and literally throw money towards the shrine.  Dozens of guards are lined up and the police work all night helping you be orderly.  There are other temples and shrines to visit, but I have never been to any of the major ones.  Visiting a local shrine is much easier, but not as exciting.  It does provide a very interesting insight into what could be normal for other Japanese people.

On January 1st, there is absolutely nothing to do.  Some major electronics shops and restaurants may open, but generally, just stay home.  After, you can enjoy the shopping bonanza.  The first two days after the new year is Japan’s biggest sale time.  It’s akin to Black Friday in America and Boxing Day in Canada.  The morning of January 2nd, there are usually lines of people waiting to enter every shop.  Deals can be had for almost everything.  If you are strong, and brave, you can easily enjoy the shopping and the hunt for bargains.  If not, try to go a week later.  Sales tend to last for the entire month, but pickings can be slim after the first week.  The first day is the best in terms of selection, and obviously things get worse from there.  There is another interesting thing you can buy.  “Fukubukuro”.  These are “lucky bags”.  Hundreds, if not thousands of people will line up  at various shops to buy these lucky backs.  To buy one of these bags, you can spend as little as 5000 yen and as much as 500,000 yen.  You will often get double the price you paid, but there is one catch.  You don’t know what you are getting.  They just sell sealed bags stuffed with goods and you have to hope you get something nice.  Recently, there have been more and more bags where you can see what is inside.  If you are worried about size, they usually have signs that say who they are for.  In most cases, only certain people buy them.  Most people don’t.

Once January 4th comes around, things return to normal, relatively, and people go back to work and enjoy working hard.

I hope you all have a safe and Happy New Year.

Merry Christmas December 25, 2008

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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Merry Christmas” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-5H


Today marks the 4th Christmas in a row that I have spent in Japan.  I’d like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas wherever you are and I hope the holidays haven’t been stressful.

Christmas in Japan is a very unique, yet very commercial experience.  It has been written in many places that Christmas starts around Halloween.  This is very true.  I have been listening to Christmas music in Starbucks for the last 2 months now.  In fact, Christmas starts rolling out about a week or two before Halloween.  Without Remembrance Day (Veteran’s Day) or US Thanksgiving, there is no other holiday to signal the start of the Christmas season.   However, unlike America and Canada, Christmas is generally isolated to a few homes and most shops.  There just isn’t the overload of Christmas lights, unless you go looking for it.  Thankfully, in Tokyo, you can either hide from it, or find it pretty easily.

So what happens in Japan?  Well, Christmas is celebrated on December 24th, not the 25th as in North America.  They tend to side with Europeans in having a big meal on Christmas Eve.  However, unlike the family event that happens in North America and Europe, it’s a couples affair.  People go on dates to KFC.  Yes, KFC.  Somehow, the Colonel had the marketing genius to turn Christmas into the one day most Japanese people eat fried chicken.  I believe this is an Australian thing.  One of my Aussie friends said he eats fried chicken for Christmas.  That’s too bad, because I love to eat turkey for Christmas.  If a couple is still young in love, they tend to go to a romantic restaurant.  It’s very nice, but good luck finding a restaurant on Christmas Eve.  The only good thing is that Christmas dinner itself is easy to find.

If you are religious (Christian), finding a church is relatively simple in Tokyo.  Midnight mass is always easy to remember, and it is still beautiful.  As always, it will be different depending on which church you attend, but it’s still nice to go.  The only difference is that you’ll always see at least one group of young teens/adults that go in casual clothes and wild hair expecting something special.  Generally, they leave before the services even start.

On December 25th, if you are expecting to celebrate Christmas, good luck.  Unfortunately, they tend to tear down all of the decorations and replace them with New Year’s decorations.  It’s a very short time to change, but I always wish they’d keep the Christmas decorations up ON CHRISTMAS DAY!  Oh well, that’s Japan.



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