Merry Christmas

Christmas in Japan is at once familiar and different. This land of Buddhism and Shinto, a largely secular society, has relatively few Christians, though Tokyo does have a smattering of churches that do hold Christmas services. However, the society in general does not follow the Christmas traditions of Christianity.

st mary's cathedral

Yet the Christmas iconography, stripped of religious connotations and sometimes tweaked for local sensibilities, is all around the city.

Once the Halloween frenzy has passed, retailers get into the Christmas spirit with carols on rotation, seasonal cards and trimmings on sale, trees and tinsel decking the halls and Christmas themed shopping bags and packaging for their customers. Things pick up steam through December.

December 24. Christmas Eve in Tokyo is a time for couples, romantic dinners and gifts, possibly a visit to a Love Hotel, while on Christmas Day it’s business as usual for most people. The peak hour trains are packed, office buildings are full.

Christmas is all but forgotten on the 26th, when the focus switches to the more restrained traditional New Year observances and celebrations.

Throughout November and December, however, a highlight of Christmas in Tokyo, for me the most delightful aspect, are the public decorations displayed in the city’s various commercial hubs, on the streets and in the shopping malls. These become quite magical at night, all lit up like, well, Christmas trees.

Christmas Illuminations in Tokyo

Surprisingly, Christmas illuminations in Shibuya are fairly low key. The most notable decorations are a Christmas tree and reindeer suspended above the entrance to Center Gai and the Xmas Love promotion and trimmings on the nearby Shibuya 109 tower.

center gai

109 shibuya xmas love

Shinjuku has some beautiful light installations. Shinjuku Southern Terrace features an interactive light installation, a geometric neon tree complete with Christmas penguins and a romantic walkway of glowing trees and shrubs.

penguins on southern terrace southern terrace lights

Mosaic Street, along the station’s western exit, has shimmering lights both above and cascading down one of its walls as well as an installation of gorgeous light ‘trees’. West of the station, the forecourt of the Shinjuku I-Land Tower has become an animated light show as the trees surrounding Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculpture change color.

shimmering lights on mosaic street mosaic street tree installation i-land tower christmas lights

Tokyo Tower is magical any night of the year, but at Christmas its own illuminations are complemented with various seasonal tinsel and light decorations.

christmas at tokyo tower

In Roppongi, Tokyo Midtown has a spectacular outdoor ‘Starlight Garden’ illumination show that turns the grass square facing the Galleria into an audio-visual show of dancing electric blue light.

tokyo midtown starlight garden light show

At Daikanyama Address, the promenade has been dressed up in relatively traditional Christmas lights, a cluster of trees forming the glittering centerpiece.

daikanyama address christmas lights

The iconic neon of Ginza and the Christmas themed decorations of the area’s upmarket retailers are complemented by an impressive assortment of lights and decorations throughout Ginza’s streets all the way to Yurakucho station. Chuo dori is the focal point of this year’s ‘Hikari Michi’ display, with evening crowds happily snapping the traditional Mikimoto Christmas Tree, though the side streets have their own take on Christmas glitter and illuminations.

bvlgari on chuo dori ginza side streets lit up yurakucho illuminated

A little late to the party is Tokyo Station’s Marunouchi area. The illuminations only started late December, but they are impressive. The requisite twinkling tree-lined street and a nice take on the kaleidoscope where the central plaza has a series of vertical decorations that throw patterns on the pavement around them, while the highlight is an animated audio-visual projection spectacle on the station building’s classical facade.

marunouchi kaleidoscopes

Across town in Ebisu, a more subdued and less overtly Christmas-like display is on show at Yebisu Garden Place. The center’s European character has been complemented with ‘Baccarat Eternal Lights’, in which the main square features a central path of trees cloaked in fairy lights, leading to a massive encased crystal chandelier hung beneath the square’s glass canopy.

baccarat eternal lights

This is but a sample of Tokyo’s Christmas lights; hopefully it gives you an idea of how the city celebrates Christmas.

In the spirit of Christmas gift giving, mapp : : tokyo has released a new updated version of the iSHOP TOKYO shinjuku ebook for iPad and iPad mini. You can download it FREE from Apple’s iBookstore via your iPad or by following this link.

ishop tokyo shinjuku 2013

Merry Christmas!