Christmas in Okinawa: クリスマス

クリスマス kurisumasu: Christmas

The Christmas season in Okinawa can be a pretty fun time of year. Although Christmas is not a public holiday here, nor a traditional holiday, many people still celebrate it in some way. I don’t actually get the day off here– I go to classes or work in the research lab.

Some stores sell a few Christmas decorations and lights, but the prices are much higher than you would expect to see in the US. You will not find a fresh Christmas tree and garland here. You can find, however, small potted “Christmas” trees and poinsettias (and for a good price) at the home stores such as Makeman and Cainz. Your best bet is to check out the Daiso and other 100yen shops for cheap decorations. It won’t be anything fancy, but the price is right. Every year it seems stores are selling more and more Christmas merchandise.

Since decorating homes is neither traditional nor cheap, huge illuminations displays at resorts, malls, gardens or other tourist sites is very popular. There are several places in Okinawa you can enjoy Christmas light displays; some are free (smaller displays) and some are paid (much grander displays). Some places to check out are: Itoman Peace Park, Southeast Botanical gardens, Okinawa Children’s Zoo, Murasaki-mura in Yomitan, Kariyushi resort (up north), Kanucha resort (up north), Naha Ryubo Palette Kumoji, and American Village in Chatan. I probably missed a few, but this is a good start.

Christmas is usually perceived to be more of a “date night” for couples, so many restaurants will offer a price fixe menu (almost everywhere requires reservations in advance!). Keep in mind, the actual day of Christmas is not necessarily known by some Japanese/Okinawans– no seriously, I was asked by quite a few people this year what day Christmas was on, and for how many days it was celebrated. I have a feeling there is some confusion over Christmas eve, Christmas day, and Boxing day (or maybe the whole bit with the 12 days of Christmas). So with this in mind, some places will offer the menu only on Christmas, while others include the 24th, or even the 23rd and 26th.

For those who do not go out on Christmas, it is extremely popular to preorder fried chicken (フライドチキン in katakana) from places such as KFC and Mos Burger, or from the Aeon and SanA grocery stores. You can even preorder from the convenience stores like Lawson or Family Mart. The sign up for time slots to pick-up fried chicken usually starts in late November. Time slots fill up quickly, so do not expect to waltz into KFC on Christmas eve or Christmas day and pick some up. Definitely preorder if you want to partake in this tradition. Usually the grocery stores do not fill up so quickly, and will have extra out on those days, so at least you can find something.

In addition, Christmas cakes (クリスマスケーキ) are popular. Usually this means a strawberry shortcake with whip icing, but recently all sorts of chocolate gateau, yule logs, cheesecakes, or other fancy torte cakes have gained popularity. Almost every single bakery/patisserie has pre-orders for cakes during the season to be picked up from the 23rd through 25th. Again, the grocery stores and conbini you can usually pick up a (small individual) cake on the day of, but other places you will need to place your order 2 weeks or more in advance. The slots of cakes don’t fill up as quickly as fried chicken, except maybe at the most popular bakeries. Honestly, the prices for a whole cake are a bit staggeringly high. This year, I chose an up-and-coming bakery to order from since their price is a bit cheaper than the more established and well-known places. The best part is, since I placed my order before a certain day, I received a 10% discount! So keep in mind if you live in Okinawa and want to get a Christmas cake: order your cake early since many places will give between 5-20% discount for early orders. Even places like Lawson and FamilyMart conbini take advance orders for Christmas cakes as well as fried chicken (1-stop shopping)… further reminding me that convenience stores in Japan truly are convenient, and you can pretty much do anything at these places (pay bills, receive Amazon packages, buy concert tickets and more).

Somewhat strange to me is starting around November, stores will start to put out Christmas decor and play incessant Christmas music (or more likely, muzak…). For a not-very-Japanese holiday, many people really enjoy and get into the spirit of the holiday season.

If you are in Okinawa during the holidays, be sure to enjoy some of these different “traditions”!

メリークリスマス!Merii kurisumasu!

メリークリ merii kuri is the shortened version, and I have actually had this sent to me in text messages from friends to my surprise.