Christmas in Japan: a Global and Local Consumption Holiday (20-Minute Video)

EXTENDED ABSTRACT - This video shows that adaptation is prevalent in Japanese Christmas. Despite some effort by the small number of Christian churches in Japan to preserve religious aspects of the holiday and an even smaller number of Christmas nativity scenes, the Japanese Christmas is overwhelmingly a secular celebration devoid of religious meaning. While this may be increasingly the case elsewhere in the world, there has never been a prominent Christian component in Japanese Christmas and these elements are largely unknown to Japanese consumers. Nevertheless, the abundance of secular Christmas icons, including Santa Claus, sleighs, reindeer, snowmen, Christmas gifts, department store Christmas window displays, Christmas trees, interior and exterior Christmas lights and decorations (some private home decorations shown in the video cost as much as US$50,000), and Christmas music, all suggest that the celebration of Christmas in Japan has numerous elements that would be recognized world-wide as representing the contemporary Christmas. In this respect, the Japanese celebration of Christmas is global and shares key elements with much of the world. As the manager of the Osaka Ritz Carlton Hotel reflected, a spectacular Christmas setting helps consumers feel like spending much more freely. This global consumer Christmas in Japan has been promoted by a number of global merchants, media, and brands, including Universal Studios-Japan, Disney, the Muppets, Coca Cola, Visa, Hyatt Regency, KFC, McDonald’s, Vogue, Martha Stewart, and many others. At least superficially, Christmas in Japan would seem to be a prime example of cultural imperialism by Western multinational corporations and media.



Citation:

Junko Kimura and Russell W. Belk (2005) ,"Christmas in Japan: a Global and Local Consumption Holiday (20-Minute Video)", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Yong-Uon Ha and Youjae Yi, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 356.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2005      Page 356

CHRISTMAS IN JAPAN: A GLOBAL AND LOCAL CONSUMPTION HOLIDAY (20-MINUTE VIDEO)

Junko Kimura, Hagoromo University, Japan

Russell W. Belk, University of Utah, U.S.A.

EXTENDED ABSTRACT -

This video shows that adaptation is prevalent in Japanese Christmas. Despite some effort by the small number of Christian churches in Japan to preserve religious aspects of the holiday and an even smaller number of Christmas nativity scenes, the Japanese Christmas is overwhelmingly a secular celebration devoid of religious meaning. While this may be increasingly the case elsewhere in the world, there has never been a prominent Christian component in Japanese Christmas and these elements are largely unknown to Japanese consumers. Nevertheless, the abundance of secular Christmas icons, including Santa Claus, sleighs, reindeer, snowmen, Christmas gifts, department store Christmas window displays, Christmas trees, interior and exterior Christmas lights and decorations (some private home decorations shown in the video cost as much as US$50,000), and Christmas music, all suggest that the celebration of Christmas in Japan has numerous elements that would be recognized world-wide as representing the contemporary Christmas. In this respect, the Japanese celebration of Christmas is global and shares key elements with much of the world. As the manager of the Osaka Ritz Carlton Hotel reflected, a spectacular Christmas setting helps consumers feel like spending much more freely. This global consumer Christmas in Japan has been promoted by a number of global merchants, media, and brands, including Universal Studios-Japan, Disney, the Muppets, Coca Cola, Visa, Hyatt Regency, KFC, McDonald’s, Vogue, Martha Stewart, and many others. At least superficially, Christmas in Japan would seem to be a prime example of cultural imperialism by Western multinational corporations and media.

On closer inspection, however, there are also a number of aspects of the Japanese Christmas celebrations that would not be recognized by Christmas celebrants in the West, even when they are presented in Japan as representing Christmas in specific Western locales. Examples shown in the video include a wedding for 8 couples hosted by a singing African-American "minister" under a giant Christmas tree, an Italian Christmas tree decorated with red women’s underwear, a 70-year tradition of fancy and expensive German Christmas cakes, a huge Christmas tree in the Kyoto train station decorated with the Japanese superhero Astro Boy, Christmas cards featuring kawaii (cute) Japanese cartoon characters, multiple "real" Santa Clauses such as those from Finland and Norway (Japanese Santas are not acknowledged as being "real" as much as dress-up pretenders), and a large number of young couples exchanging Tiffany Christmas gifts before spending a night or two in an expensive hotel (or for those who book too late, lining up on Christmas Eve to get into a by-the-hour "love hotel"). Each of these examples suggests a hybrid adaptation of Christmas in Japan, contributing to making it something that is uniquely a part of Japanese culture. This appropriation of the global occurs in other cultures as well, but is especially prevalent in Japan.

At the same time that Japan has adapted Christmas to local tastes, we find that there are places in Japan that seem impervious to Christmas influences. They include not only obvious bastions of tradition such as Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, but also less obvious strongholds like Japanese restaurants, tatami mat homes, Japanese gardens, and Japanese sports like Sumo wrestling. In this way, Christmas is partitioned geographically and kept foreign, exotic, and separate from what is regarded as truly Japanese. Not only is Christmas partitioned in space, but in time as well. By the end of Christmas Day (December 25th) in Japan, virtually all Christmas decorations have been removed from homes, stores, streets, and offices in order to prepare for New Year decorations and celebrations.

Still, all tradition is invented. This is evident, for instance, in Buddhism (which traveled from India to China to Korea to Japan), the Japanese tea ceremony and kanji writing system (from China), and Japanese foreign trade (forced on Japan by the "black ships" of US Commodore Perry in 1853). The new traditions of Christmas ushered in by global media and global brands differ from these earlier cultural adaptations primarily in their speed, degree of branded commercialism, and multicultural character. Compared to the hybridization of Christmas traditions from Europe that were melded together in the US during the 19th and 20th Centuries, Japan has kept Christmas as something fanciful and foreign. By partitioning of Christmas in time and space, it continues to be perceived as largely gaijin or foreign (as illustrated by the Finnish and Norweigan "real" Santas"). Nor have seemingly hybrid examples like Astro Boy Christmas tree decorations, Christmas weddings, or kawaii Christmas cards supplanted Western Christmas iconography or come to be thought of as uniquely Japanese. Such "glocal" examples show a Japanese appropriation and partial reconfiguration of Christmas, but not to the extent that these local adaptations dominate what Japanese consumers regard to be the global or foreign elements of Christmas.

We end by discussing how Christmas is used to provide both a consumption holiday and a welcome relief from more hierarchical and obligatory traditional holiday celebrations in Japan. The strong role of fantasy in Japan is expressed in other ways such as in Japanese anime, manga, films, and literature, but Christmas is a more enacted and participative consumption activity. The video concludes by suggesting that a parallel may be found in other global consumption phenomena such as intercultural tourism. To the extend that tourist destinations homogenize and offer only world food and drinks, world hotels, world airports, world music, world media, and world tourist attractions, there is little incentive to leave home. Only if these destinations promise something different, even if it is a stereotyped clichT that is otherwise hard to find in the host culture, is there reason to become a global traveler. The same can be said of more local visitation to theme parks and themed cities such as Las Vegas. It is the desire to consume something different that attracts us, not the desire to be the same as others in the world. The video finds that similar desires apply to Christmas in Japan, suggesting that globalization equates with a search for differentiation and otherness rather than homogenization.

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Authors

Junko Kimura, Hagoromo University, Japan
Russell W. Belk, University of Utah, U.S.A.



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6 | 2005



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