My SNA column 41: “Celebrating Christmas as a Compromise” (Dec 27, 2022), about what to do when people say you shouldn’t celebrate regular traditions you hold dear because they’re “not Japanese”


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Hi Blog.  Let me say it upfront:  If you’re celebrating December customs such as Christmas, then I hope you had a Merry (and unobstructed) Christmas and a Happy New Year.  If your Christmas was in fact obstructed in some way by people who claim that “Christmas is not Japanese” or “Christmas is something you should outgrow” (as happened to a friend of mine recently), my end-year SNA column is for you:


Visible Minorities: Celebrating Christmas as a Compromise

SNA (Tokyo) — A long-term Non-Japanese resident friend, married with a Japanese husband and adult kids, recently told me about a new development in their relationship: Christmas was no longer to be celebrated in their household.

Their children were all grown and didn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore; so no more presents or any big dinner to celebrate the day. They would allow her only a tree.

Why this sudden change of heart? To her surprise, all this time Christmas had been regarded by the family as a nuisance, a cultural imposition on them. Now it was time to grow out of it.

It raises a fundamental issue that someday comes up within any intercultural relationship: How much culture do you give up for the sake of compromise?  

I argue that Japan’s “unique” culture narrative (and therefore its lack of commonality with anything “foreign”, by definition) can often create sudden, long-term culture shocks.  Because people here can see any accommodation of “foreign” culture as an identity sacrifice, a denial of “Japaneseness”, this can kill relationships, and I offer advice on what to do about it.  

Article at


Thanks for reading!  Seasons Greetings to all Readers and beyond!  Debito Arudou, Ph.D.

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18 comments on “My SNA column 41: “Celebrating Christmas as a Compromise” (Dec 27, 2022), about what to do when people say you shouldn’t celebrate regular traditions you hold dear because they’re “not Japanese”

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    Another couple of points relevant to this discussion:

    1) The expectation that you WILL enjoy Japanese Christmas “traditions” (24th of December, no extended family, sushi, KFC and sponge cake). We don’t want any of that boiled pudding, displaying Christmas cards, etc.

    2) That Team Japan frequently praises its own expats for upholding Japanese traditions in their new country of residence. NHK goes to lengths to show the Japanese community in Brazil watching Kohaku, etc. Everything “we Japanese” do is culture and tradition. You foreigners have none of that.

    • “Oh you’re Japanese?

      Stop wearing that western suit, it isn’t Japanese. Stop driving that BMW, it isn’t Japanese. Stop eating bread, it isn’t Japanese. Stop having elections, it isn’t Japanese, stop taking clinically proven medication, it isn’t Japanese…

      Need I go on?

      • Some Japanese, including the recently departed dear leader, would agree with you on the elections. And of course the rice is “sacred”.

        A lot of western medicine is not approved for use in the Japan, as “Japanese bodies are different”. I remember going to a hospital and getting the traditional Japanese doctor by mistake who used “Chinese” though he called it “Japanese medicine for my viral condition, so I had to go get anti biotics elsewhere as it was not appropriate. He had a weird, pride look on his face as he emphasized the traditional nature of the medication he was prescribing.

        I agree about the BMW but conversely in the UK Nissan won the European Car of the Year Award. Thatcher was trying to sell it as a “British” car as a majority of the parts were made in the UK.

        Remember, “Terminator 2” is a “Japanese” film because apparently some Japanese money was used to make it. Thus, anything with any Japanese involvement ever can be defined as “Japanese” if it suits for it to be so. So BMW, hmmm they might have some Japanese investment….

        Tempura and Gyoza are of course Japanese because the names are Japanese. And its “Japanese preparation”.

        Similarly, Japan took part in the first Iraq War………… by paying some of the costs. Banzai!

        Elections may or may not be Japanese, but as the winners are always the geriatric LDP overall, this is indeed upholding Japanese tradition. The Erai Hito are vindicated. Here, stability means no change.

        I am quite alarmed by that new fangled “Jury system” they are bringing in. Surely it is better than one Erai old fart just rubber stamps the already decided “Guilty’ judgement? Again, predictability and Uncertainty Avoidance are what makes the Japanese the Japanese.

        As one LDP guy admitted, “This might give the people the misconception that they have the right to change things”.

        From the horse’s mouth.

        — Source on the horse?

  • Aha, but doesn’t Japan’s pesky but still surviving “western” constitution guarantee Freedom of Religion? The J man knew he was marrying a someone from a Christian background, therefore she should be allowed to follow her Christian beliefs.

    I suppose if they themselves aren’t going to partake e.g. gift receiving from her at Xmas it is their loss, and I suppose instead they should expect her to be absent on Christmas eve, Christmas Day and if British, Boxing Day too, because, she has to go do Christian stuff on those days.

    If she was Muslim orJewish, would they serve her pork and stop her praying to Mecca?

    Frankly, the J hubby is getting off easy just with the cultural celebration of Xmas. Apparently if he married a muslim he would probably have to convert to Islam.

  • “Merry Christmas in Summer”, sang Southern All Stars, somewhat banally. That aside, if such a popular group (that can slight PM Abe and get away with it) sing this, then Xmas is essentially normalized as an observed tradition in Japan.

    Check this guy’s record collection and see if he has got any songs that mention “Christmas”. Unless he is a hardcore Enka listener, I bet there is something in there.

    Then again hypocrisy never stopped people in Japan determined to enforce random rules. Of course by denying Xmas, he is inadvertently assuming the role of “Scrooge”- another western Xmas role.

    Oh, the irony….

  • Interesting article…Ive always felt everything in Japan is replaced or cleansed with something that is Japanese. To explain what that means to someone who has never experienced it…very difficult.

    • Indeed, I recall Michael Woodford trying to explain what it was like in Japan to a BBC reporter of South Asian descent and she was hinting that he was being racist; she just could not get it. Double irony as Michael Woodford is in fact of part South Asian heritage himself.

      Personally when I try to explain these phenomena to western people who ask questions to confirm their cherished stereotypes, their eyes tend to glaze over when these long held beliefs of “westernized Japan” are not confirmed.

      However, a new stereotype, that of “Japan is racist” is starting to take hold in western business people, dovetailing with “Japan is not worth bothering with” = Japan passing for business.

      Lets see them try to shake off this one so easily.

      • @ Baud “I recall Michael Woodford trying to explain what it was like in Japan to a BBC reporter of South Asian descent and she was hinting that he was being racist; ”

        I tried to find this but couldn’t. Any help?

          Download the MP3. From 10.00 onwards. At 13.30 she takes the Japanese authorities side and gives Woodford a hard time. He respectfully calls it a naive understanding of Japan. At 15.00 She pulls a “whatabboutism” and says its the same in the West. Woodford then goes into meticulous detail about how it is different in Japan due to the passive media and the societal reaction to corruption, and she still gives him a hard time.
          Just challenging for the sake of challenging, rather than being a genuine seeker of the truth. Way to go, new Beeb!
          She’s a Paxman wannabe.

        • “It sounds to me, Michael Woodford, you’re making it a Japan vs non Japan issue” 20.15
          At 17.55 She expresses incredulity that Japan could be anything other than a western, liberal democracy following the rules of capitalism.

          And she doesn’t listen,

          And she keeps bringing up Enron. Straw man. It gets tired, fast and you just wish she would let him talk.

          • Very interesting, thanks for the post. It reminded me of an interview in the Financial Times, with Takafumi Horie, “the bad boy of the Japanese business world.” Horie: “People in those high bureaucratic ranks of the Japanese socialist hierarchy and the mind-controllers in charge of the television stations really hate people like me who try to compete in the business world.” Outed for corruption in a corrupt culture and thrown into prison because they didn’t know their place and subordinate to the powers that be.

  • Japan has fully embraced an American icon like Disneyland and Mickey Mouse up to the point that they even show it new year’s postcards but they reject Christmas.
    Yet it’s perfectly OK, even fashionable, to eat KFC on Christmas eve.

    I guess the takeaway is that cultural norms are somewhat flexible when it comes to make money?

    • Disneyland is Japanese because its “TOKYO Disneyland”. Its Japanese preparation.

      I bet most young people going there don’t ever consider its a foreign import.

      Furthermore, as the late Showa Emperor was buried with his Mickey Mouse watch on, and his horse was called “Snow White”, this obviously gives Disney the seal of Japanese approval…..

      Incidentally, I heard an anecdote that Disney Japan seriously resent having been ordered to proofread everything by the American HQ to avoid Katakana slips or mistranslations like “Daisy Duck’s fanny” or “Pis for Poo” (sic) on kids T shirts, but I digress.

    • Given the latest “Chinese people, all our food is from Fukushima poster” I would say making money is secondary to Nationalist Japan Myths.

      As we have seen countless times, they would rather preserve the “Wa” than make any changes to save their economy or demographics.

      Ironically, China’s current leadership is also going in that direction and is actively curbing entrepreneurs or taking over their businesses, instead pushing national socialist messages instead.

    • Also what about JAL flight 123, the worst air crash incident involving a single aircraft? To be fair, that one was Boeing‘s fault, but if Japan‘s airlines are so superior why do they sometimes crash like all the other airlines? Maybe that guy should do more research.


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