Japan has many of its own cultural holidays like Tanabata and Obon, but in recent decades, it’s become more common for Japanese people to celebrate Western holidays as well. Of course, the vast difference in cultures means that these occasions look quite a bit different when Japan is in charge! Just in time for White Day (which we’ll get to in a bit), let’s check out some Japanese twists on Western holidays!
Valentine’s Day/White Day
The Roman Catholic feast day of love made its mark on Japan in the 1960s, when confectionary companies and department stores popularized the custom of women gifting chocolates to their male co-workers. Men who attract women’s romantic feelings receive nice homemade chocolate (called honmei-choko), while platonic male friends get cheaper chocolate (called giri-choko) as an obligation to not leave them out completely. This trend has spread to schools as well, so you’ll often see anime like Kimi ni Todoke feature teen girls fretting over whether their crush will interpret their gift as honmei-choko or giri-choko.
The 1980s brought with it an “answer” to Valentine’s Day—exactly one month after February 14th, it’s time for White Day! Sweets manufacturers introduced the idea of men returning the favor to the women who gave them chocolates by gifting marshmallows, white chocolate, or even white lingerie. Yes, it’s a bit of a “Hallmark holiday” in the same vein as Sweetest Day, but at least it’s given us some adorable anime episodes!
This British and American holiday has never fully integrated itself into Japanese culture, as evidenced by the fact that most anime episodes themed around it have the characters wondering what exactly Halloween is supposed to be. Haruhi Suzumiya creates a “death god” out of a jack-o-lantern and some school supplies, Umaru-chan coerces her brother into making a banquet of pumpkin-flavored sweets (which are actually made with kabocha, a green pumpkin variety available in Japan), and the future world of Dirty Pair seems to celebrate by holding a Halloween parade much more reminiscent of New Year’s Eve.
Instead of trick-or-treating, which would be far too imposing on other people’s private homes for Japanese people to enjoy, Halloween tends to be a day where young people dress up in cosplay and go drinking with friends. Scary stories are saved for the Obon festival in August, when ancestral spirits are said to return and all things spooky come into vogue.
Christmas is perhaps the most widespread Western holiday in Japan, although the Japanese version is also one of the farthest removed from the occasion’s European origins. Since Christians are few and far between in the predominantly Buddhist/Shinto country, the religious connotations have largely been removed and Christmas has become much more about romance and spending time with family. Christmas Eve is thought of as a date night for couples (even more so than Valentine’s Day), a successful advertisement campaign from KFC in the ‘70s cemented the tradition of eating fried chicken for the holidays, and Christmas cake (a strawberry sponge frosted with whipped cream, unlike the British fruitcake) is a staple treat sold in grocery stores and cake shops around the country.
The world of anime is full to bursting with Christmas episodes, ranging from silly antics like Retsuko desperately trying to find a date for Christmas Eve in Aggressive Retsuko to wholesome moments like Senku using his newly invented electric bulbs to make a Christmas tree in Dr. Stone to vitally important plot developments like Heartcatch Precure’s villainous reveal that leads directly into the series finale. Whenever Japanese Christmas is involved in anime, it’s sure to make viewers sit up and take notice!
Other Western holidays like Easter and Thanksgiving have a minor presence in Japan, if only for the sake of dressing up anime waifus in cute outfits. But whatever the season, we’re always happy to see new and exciting ways to celebrate familiar holidays!
What did you think of our overview? Have you ever witnessed a Japanese holiday celebration? What are your favorite anime holiday episodes? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!