12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS: Japanese Buddhists, Shintos celebrate newly introduced holiday with some variations

(Photo used by permission of Chiu)
Junior Atsuo Chiu, second from right, with his brother, grandmother, mother and other brother in Atami, Japan, in 2013.

Cultures around the world have special ways of celebrating the holiday season. In the “12 Days of Christmas” series, sophomores Jack Christian and Allison Zhang will interview students and teachers on their international Christmas experiences. Check back tomorrow to hear about Christmas in Vietnam from sophomore George Nguyen.

Christmas was introduced to Japan in the 16th century, hundreds of years before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

But because of the large population of Buddhists and Shintos in Japan, Christmas didn’t become popular until the past few decades, junior Atsuo Chiu said.

Chiu, whose dad is Japanese, visits Japan for summer school and occasionally during winter break.

In Japan, there are Christmas trees, and children do believe in Santa Claus, he said.

“Christmas is pretty much the same thing as a birthday party,” Chiu said.

“It’s not really like family members get together; it’s more like you meet with your friends, and you just have fun together.”

And like a birthday party, the holiday features a special cake, Chiu said. It’s a strawberry shortcake with a small chocolate Santa Claus figurine on top.

Friends also exchange gifts, but putting presents under a Christmas tree is rare.

On New Year’s Eve, he said, people stay up and watchKouhaku,” a television show in which famous singers compete, men versus women.

Like the Times Square Ball Drop on New Year’s Eve, almost every family in Japan watches “Kouhaku.”

On New Year’s Day, people go to a shrine in the morning and pray to the Shinto gods for a good year.

Afterward, they have a big traditional meal.

By Allison Zhang

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