Christmas Dating in Japan

By Michael Gakuran | | Japan | 40 Comments |

Illuminations, fashionable restaurants, Christmas cake, KFC, omnipresent Santa Claus avatars, Disneyland and the infamous love hotels. For many people in Japan, Christmas Day in Japan is Valentine’s Day, take two.

Christmas - couple in JapanThat’s right. For couples and lovers, Christmas Day is the day of the year to spend time together. According to JapanToday, 63% of people want to find a boyfriend or girlfriend over Christmas, the majority saying that Christmas ‘is the season of love’ (JapanToday). It’s not surprising considering – the commercial aspect of present-giving mixed with the rosy fantasy-land of upmarket places like Ginza and the Tokyo Bay area create the perfect atmosphere for spending time with that special person.

Sea of neon blue lights

But how best to wow your date this Christmas Day? The stereotypical date-plan a guy has might run a little something like this:

1) Buy expensive present. Have it lavishly gift-wrapped and double-boxed for good measure. (Ensure present can fit in your pocket, unnoticed.)
2) Don a deep black cashmere coat and a scarf with this season’s Winter colours. A smart shirt, tie and pressed trousers wouldn’t go unnoticed either.
3) Take your date to the posh restaurant you pre-booked. Ideally this will be on the top floor of a well-known hotel and will have wine and a 3 course meal.
4) Give expensive present at the opportune moment, and hope it’s within the price range she was expecting.
5) Watch your date’s surprised and gleeful reactions with satisfaction, and then retire to luxurious hotel suite for a night to remember.

* If by step 5 you’ve already exhausted your bank account, check out your budget 10,000 yen kitsch Santa-themed rooms at your local Rabuho. Alternatively, head down to Kabukicho 2 Chome. Take a look at this website too – it has a cool flash-based map for searching for local love hotels!
** Depending on your date’s standards, mentioning Rabuho may result in an early bedtime for yourself.
*** Rabuho is short for ‘Love Hotel’ in Japanese – a place where couples can have some private time together, usually rented in short 3-hour stays.

I jest. But in all seriousness, I was quite surprised when I first learnt about the significance of Christmas for couples in Japan. Check out this video of several years’ worth of JR adverts. They are basically marketing Christmas as a time to take the train (the ‘Christmas Express’) home to see your special person. The song is by Tatsuro Yamashita (山下達郎), which I wrote about last year. Download it at the bottom of this page.

But more than the whole dating atmosphere, what caught me off guard was the pressure on the guy to buy expensive presents. I began hearing stories of expensive diamond rings and lavish presents of jewellery and dates at expensive restaurants. As a guy, we’re expected to go all-out! Take a gander at retailer The Kiss’s answer to a Christmas present. Those rings right there are in the cheaper range too. Of course, such expectation for expensive or luxurious gifts isn’t isolated to Japan alone, but it did cause me to wonder about commercialism and gift-giving. When I was in Japan for Christmas two years ago, I saw quite a few couples spending time together and felt a subdued pressure to buy jewellery and spend a lot of money. Anything less would have been seen as stingy. Whatever happened to the adage ‘it’s the thought that counts’..?

After the date and (hopefully successful) giving of gifts, many couples – both young and old – finish their romantic evening with a night of passion. Apparently, hotels in Japan on Christmas Eve are booked well in advance, so many couples have to settle for the glitzy world of Rabuho (BBC News). Osaka even has a Christmas-themed love hotel, open all year round. What better an end to the evening than playing the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Claus after a few too many sherries? You could even try on some of LoveCosmetic’s ‘Nuru nuru Lovely Kiss Christmas‘ (Lovely wet kiss Christmas) if you really want to put some zing into the evening!

Love Hotel in Osaka

Image from Julie in Japan

But the build-up to all that passion: The romantic evening for two. The clink of wine glasses, nice food and a kiss in front of a huge Christmas tree sprinkled with fairy lights. Where does the present feature in all this? Just how much does a guy have to spend on a gift for his date to round off the evening? Or are you of the mindset that thinks that most any present is good, so long as it is thoughtful?

So, to all the female readers: Do you expect an expensive present from your boyfriend/husband/lover at Christmas?

To male readers: Do you think giving an expensive present is important?

**********

Download Tatsuro Yamashita – Christmas Eve

40 comments on “Christmas Dating in Japan
  1. Love online says:

    It all sounds so shallow. I would find it a real turn off. It almost implies that she is looking for a meal ticket rather than a relationship. I dont know what the social implications of divorce are in Japan but I suspect that could be where these kinds of relationships end up.

  2. Athlon says:

    It all sounds so shallow. I would find it a real turn off. It almost implies that she is looking for a meal ticket rather than a relationship. I dont know what the social implications of divorce are in Japan but I suspect that could be where these kinds of relationships end up.

  3. Julie says:

    Hello!
    This is Julie (I took the picture of the Christmas love hotel on your blog. I found it while I was walking in Osaka last year.)

    I was surprised to see the photo I took featured on your blog. Thanks for linking to me. I read your site sometimes, so I’m happy that you know about mine. I read the Blog Matsuri posts and they were really interesting.

    I was wondering if I could ask you a favor. Would you please add my site to your blogroll? I am trying to get more traffic to my site. If you like my blog and you add it, it would be so helpful because your blog is popular and people may find my site through yours. If you don’t want to do that, though, I understand. Either way, I’ll continue to read and enjoy this site.
    Take care,
    Julie

  4. Julie says:

    Hello!
    This is Julie (I took the picture of the Christmas love hotel on your blog. I found it while I was walking in Osaka last year.)

    I was surprised to see the photo I took featured on your blog. Thanks for linking to me. I read your site sometimes, so I’m happy that you know about mine. I read the Blog Matsuri posts and they were really interesting.

    I was wondering if I could ask you a favor. Would you please add my site to your blogroll? I am trying to get more traffic to my site. If you like my blog and you add it, it would be so helpful because your blog is popular and people may find my site through yours. If you don’t want to do that, though, I understand. Either way, I’ll continue to read and enjoy this site.
    Take care,
    Julie

  5. Chris White says:

    Date boys:) My Japanese boyfirend actually prefers NOT to receive presents at all. It’s much more cost-effective!

  6. Chris White says:

    Date boys:) My Japanese boyfirend actually prefers NOT to receive presents at all. It’s much more cost-effective!

  7. Sammy says:

    I liked your article, Mike. My view on any holiday season where consumerism is encouraged is that guys who feel pressured to buy their girlfriend – Japanese or not – an expensive gift, are ruled by fear.

    It’s their fear that their girlfriend might leave them if they don’t ‘spend’ enough on them. Add to that, if their girlfriend did ever leave them, they are afraid that they couldn’t get another girlfriend who is just as beautiful and who will love them.

    I agree with Danielle… “Any woman who dumps a guy because they don’t spend enough on them wasn’t worth being with in the first place.” And every guy ‘knows’ this but their fear overrides common sense!

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for your reply Sammy.

      Good points as well. I think you’re right that fear is definitely a big factor in the whole present-buying process and is the case in many societies. The difference I felt in Japan, however, was that buying an expensive gift was to an extent institutionalised. It could be summed up in that wonderful expression 暗黙の了解 (anmoku no ryoukai) – a tacit understanding and acceptance of the required thing to do in a given situation.

      What I guess I’m supposing is that, in Japan, the majority will think that buying an expensive gift is ‘normal’ and the ‘done thing’. Perhaps WhatJapanThinks has a survey to back this up..? (It seems to be down right now, so I cannot check).

  8. Sammy says:

    I liked your article, Mike. My view on any holiday season where consumerism is encouraged is that guys who feel pressured to buy their girlfriend – Japanese or not – an expensive gift, are ruled by fear.

    It’s their fear that their girlfriend might leave them if they don’t ‘spend’ enough on them. Add to that, if their girlfriend did ever leave them, they are afraid that they couldn’t get another girlfriend who is just as beautiful and who will love them.

    I agree with Danielle… “Any woman who dumps a guy because they don’t spend enough on them wasn’t worth being with in the first place.” And every guy ‘knows’ this but their fear overrides common sense!

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for your reply Sammy.

      Good points as well. I think you’re right that fear is definitely a big factor in the whole present-buying process and is the case in many societies. The difference I felt in Japan, however, was that buying an expensive gift was to an extent institutionalised. It could be summed up in that wonderful expression 暗黙の了解 (anmoku no ryoukai) – a tacit understanding and acceptance of the required thing to do in a given situation.

      What I guess I’m supposing is that, in Japan, the majority will think that buying an expensive gift is ‘normal’ and the ‘done thing’. Perhaps WhatJapanThinks has a survey to back this up..? (It seems to be down right now, so I cannot check).

  9. Jenni says:

    Hi Mike

    What an excellent article you have written – I was very entertained :) I can see the romantic attraction of Christmas, and I know of at least two couples that have married at this time of year. I think it must be something to do with being cold outside and having someone to keep you warm… I don’t think that it is fair for guys to be expected to spend lots of money on lavish presents. It should be equal between girls and guys – perhaps if the guy gives the girl a surprise one Valentine’s Day, she should surprise him the next year, or on the next suitable occasion.

    Personally I received a pair of slippers and a lovely stripy woolly hat from my boyfriend for Christmas ^_^

    For the mean time, Merry Christmas and enjoy the holidays!

    Jenni

    • Mike says:

      Hey Jenni! Long time no see ^^

      Getting married at Christmas sound idyllic too. It seems we’re moving further and further away form religion in the 21st century, and with that, the traditional meaning of Christmas. One of my philosophy teachers thinks that secularism will define the modern era.

      Nice idea about surprising each other on alternate years and such. I wonder what Japanese people feel about equality in present-giving? Anyone reading, let us hear your opinion ^^.

      Merry Christmas to you too! Best wishes to you, your boyfriend and your family.

  10. Jenni says:

    Hi Mike

    What an excellent article you have written – I was very entertained :) I can see the romantic attraction of Christmas, and I know of at least two couples that have married at this time of year. I think it must be something to do with being cold outside and having someone to keep you warm… I don’t think that it is fair for guys to be expected to spend lots of money on lavish presents. It should be equal between girls and guys – perhaps if the guy gives the girl a surprise one Valentine’s Day, she should surprise him the next year, or on the next suitable occasion.

    Personally I received a pair of slippers and a lovely stripy woolly hat from my boyfriend for Christmas ^_^

    For the mean time, Merry Christmas and enjoy the holidays!

    Jenni

    • Mike says:

      Hey Jenni! Long time no see ^^

      Getting married at Christmas sound idyllic too. It seems we’re moving further and further away form religion in the 21st century, and with that, the traditional meaning of Christmas. One of my philosophy teachers thinks that secularism will define the modern era.

      Nice idea about surprising each other on alternate years and such. I wonder what Japanese people feel about equality in present-giving? Anyone reading, let us hear your opinion ^^.

      Merry Christmas to you too! Best wishes to you, your boyfriend and your family.

  11. wormgear says:

    Thanks for following me on Twitter, Mike. I started following you, too, so I discovered your nice site! Looks like I place I’ll enjoy visiting often. ANYway – I am not really too surprised by your description of couples during Christmas in Japan; I know this kind of expectation and pressure to plan the perfect Christmas is very common and that this most often involves spending lots of money. There are plenty of exceptions to this, though. My wife is from Japan (we’re living together in Chicago, currently) and she would not be impressed at all by such lavishness and in fact she would probably see it to be foolish and overly-extravagant. Surprisingly, many of her friends share the same point of view with her. My wife would most likely prefer to just wear warm and comfortable clothes, go out for a nice dinner and then stay home reading manga or watching anime. ^^ My sister-in-law, however– different story, I can only image what my brother-in-law is going through right now. Ugh…

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for your comment Wormgear! It was a bit of Twitter nampa, but I’m meeting some new people because of it, so it’s good ^^. If I accidentally unfollow you when I trim things down again, just PM me.

      Nice to know about your wife and comparison with your sister-in-law. It’s reassuring to know not everyone goes in for the bells and whistles ^^.

  12. wormgear says:

    Thanks for following me on Twitter, Mike. I started following you, too, so I discovered your nice site! Looks like I place I’ll enjoy visiting often. ANYway – I am not really too surprised by your description of couples during Christmas in Japan; I know this kind of expectation and pressure to plan the perfect Christmas is very common and that this most often involves spending lots of money. There are plenty of exceptions to this, though. My wife is from Japan (we’re living together in Chicago, currently) and she would not be impressed at all by such lavishness and in fact she would probably see it to be foolish and overly-extravagant. Surprisingly, many of her friends share the same point of view with her. My wife would most likely prefer to just wear warm and comfortable clothes, go out for a nice dinner and then stay home reading manga or watching anime. ^^ My sister-in-law, however– different story, I can only image what my brother-in-law is going through right now. Ugh…

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for your comment Wormgear! It was a bit of Twitter nampa, but I’m meeting some new people because of it, so it’s good ^^. If I accidentally unfollow you when I trim things down again, just PM me.

      Nice to know about your wife and comparison with your sister-in-law. It’s reassuring to know not everyone goes in for the bells and whistles ^^.

  13. Kazuya says:

    Hi! This is the first time I have written here. I think you’ve got good point of view! Actually, I was quite surprised when I figured out Christmas is meant be for family in England, U.S. as well. I haven’t been with my family on Xmas many times, like 3 times in my life…my memory says. Me, because some kind of sport party(?) is supposed to be held annually, I’m always with my friends. Jap guys have a tendency of spending a lot of money while they are talking it doesn’t really matter however much money we spend. At least I don’t think it’s not important. But still, I would spend a bit more money. One of the reasons thought will include that Jap media has been making such a fixed opinion of being gorgeous on Christmas. That’s why even if we know it is, some would think there should be more money spent without spending. But the other wouldn’t think so of course:) I know how you feel. I wonder when Japan went to a wrong direction…haha.

    • Mike says:

      Hey Kazuya. Thanks for taking the time to read my journal! How’s Leeds?

      Interesting points about Japanese media encouraging people to spend more. I deifnitely think that this is the case here in the UK – we are bombarded with adverts to get us to buy and spend more. I wonder, do you think things would change in Japan if the media stopped encouraging heavy spending?

      • Kazuya says:

        Ah, probably no. it’s because things has been taken root in Japan, I guess. But it’s just one of them that’s to do with it. And what’s more, although JapanToday said 63% of peep think it would be good with girlfriend, more than 90% of peep around me definitely do. and I’m one of them :P

  14. Kazuya says:

    Hi! This is the first time I have written here. I think you’ve got good point of view! Actually, I was quite surprised when I figured out Christmas is meant be for family in England, U.S. as well. I haven’t been with my family on Xmas many times, like 3 times in my life…my memory says. Me, because some kind of sport party(?) is supposed to be held annually, I’m always with my friends. Jap guys have a tendency of spending a lot of money while they are talking it doesn’t really matter however much money we spend. At least I don’t think it’s not important. But still, I would spend a bit more money. One of the reasons thought will include that Jap media has been making such a fixed opinion of being gorgeous on Christmas. That’s why even if we know it is, some would think there should be more money spent without spending. But the other wouldn’t think so of course:) I know how you feel. I wonder when Japan went to a wrong direction…haha.

    • Mike says:

      Hey Kazuya. Thanks for taking the time to read my journal! How’s Leeds?

      Interesting points about Japanese media encouraging people to spend more. I deifnitely think that this is the case here in the UK – we are bombarded with adverts to get us to buy and spend more. I wonder, do you think things would change in Japan if the media stopped encouraging heavy spending?

      • Kazuya says:

        Ah, probably no. it’s because things has been taken root in Japan, I guess. But it’s just one of them that’s to do with it. And what’s more, although JapanToday said 63% of peep think it would be good with girlfriend, more than 90% of peep around me definitely do. and I’m one of them :P

  15. Danielle says:

    “within the price range she was expecting.” That this is even in there is sad to me in the extreme and yet I am learning that that is the way of things here in Japan. I’m not denying that some women think this way in Australia but they would be frowned upon and probably gossiped about as the “b” word if anyone came out and said their present wasn’t expensive enough or, worse, that it WAS expensive enough and how much it cost lol! I am also discovering that price/brand is more important than quality here and one does not guarantee the other. I’m not sure what it is that causes this difference in taste but I guess it’s the same thing that makes me recoil at anything with a logo on the outside but makes Japanese girls (and guys) happily walk around as though an entire Christmas party of designers vomited on them!

    Any woman who dumps a guy because they don’t spend enough on them wasn’t worth being with in the first place.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for your comment Danielle!

      I do definitely get the impression that many people in Japan go for price and brand over thoughtfulness and the present being personal. My intention is not to have a dig at the Japanese though – as we know, many other cultures and people shop for brand names and price. And that’s not to mention that there are probably many Japanese people who balk at the idea of buying expensive gifts just to impress their date.

      That said, I was surprised. I, too, recoil at the thought of buying brands and expensive items to impress!

      • Danielle says:

        Hi Mike,
        Just to clarify that while I was making some observations about what it seems like in Japan (not necessarily true for everyone in the country), my final sentence was addressing anyone, anywhere in the world! A thoughtful, personal present that shows you’ve taken time to know a person’s (we girls can give presents too of course) interests and then giving them something appropriate of the best quality you can afford, even if it’s not the best, THAT is a far better present than someone going bankrupt for the next 3 months just for the sake of it. :)

        • Mike says:

          Thanks for clearing that up ^^. I was just concerned my post reads as though I am badmouthing the Japanese.

          I wish it were true that people placed value on the thoughtfulness rather than price of a present. But even I’m guilty of thinking about price too much sometimes! It’s not easy to do in a consumer-driven society.

  16. Danielle says:

    “within the price range she was expecting.” That this is even in there is sad to me in the extreme and yet I am learning that that is the way of things here in Japan. I’m not denying that some women think this way in Australia but they would be frowned upon and probably gossiped about as the “b” word if anyone came out and said their present wasn’t expensive enough or, worse, that it WAS expensive enough and how much it cost lol! I am also discovering that price/brand is more important than quality here and one does not guarantee the other. I’m not sure what it is that causes this difference in taste but I guess it’s the same thing that makes me recoil at anything with a logo on the outside but makes Japanese girls (and guys) happily walk around as though an entire Christmas party of designers vomited on them!

    Any woman who dumps a guy because they don’t spend enough on them wasn’t worth being with in the first place.

    • Mike says:

      Thanks for your comment Danielle!

      I do definitely get the impression that many people in Japan go for price and brand over thoughtfulness and the present being personal. My intention is not to have a dig at the Japanese though – as we know, many other cultures and people shop for brand names and price. And that’s not to mention that there are probably many Japanese people who balk at the idea of buying expensive gifts just to impress their date.

      That said, I was surprised. I, too, recoil at the thought of buying brands and expensive items to impress!

      • Danielle says:

        Hi Mike,
        Just to clarify that while I was making some observations about what it seems like in Japan (not necessarily true for everyone in the country), my final sentence was addressing anyone, anywhere in the world! A thoughtful, personal present that shows you’ve taken time to know a person’s (we girls can give presents too of course) interests and then giving them something appropriate of the best quality you can afford, even if it’s not the best, THAT is a far better present than someone going bankrupt for the next 3 months just for the sake of it. :)

        • Mike says:

          Thanks for clearing that up ^^. I was just concerned my post reads as though I am badmouthing the Japanese.

          I wish it were true that people placed value on the thoughtfulness rather than price of a present. But even I’m guilty of thinking about price too much sometimes! It’s not easy to do in a consumer-driven society.

  17. massu says:

    Jesus Christ!!

    I knew about the romantic atmosphere around the Japanese couples, but this sound like they try really hard to give a good impression on X-mas. I’m not really a fan of commercial romantic dates (I do prefer to take a girl on 3 romantic diner dates on regular schedule than on valentines), but looks like these guys take this seriously. Any way, I don’t think that the amount you spent in a present is important if you are not really sure about the girl. I mean, come on! Getting a girl just for X-mas… be more creative.

    • Mike says:

      Hey massu. Thanks for your comment!

      I’m not much of a fan of commercial dates either, and I’m always torn up internally around Christmas time because I don’t tend to spend as much as other people (I am still a student though) and because I don’t want people to spend a lot on me. So I often feel unbalanced, in the sense that I can’t compete with the present-buying of those around me.

  18. massu says:

    Jesus Christ!!

    I knew about the romantic atmosphere around the Japanese couples, but this sound like they try really hard to give a good impression on X-mas. I’m not really a fan of commercial romantic dates (I do prefer to take a girl on 3 romantic diner dates on regular schedule than on valentines), but looks like these guys take this seriously. Any way, I don’t think that the amount you spent in a present is important if you are not really sure about the girl. I mean, come on! Getting a girl just for X-mas… be more creative.

    • Mike says:

      Hey massu. Thanks for your comment!

      I’m not much of a fan of commercial dates either, and I’m always torn up internally around Christmas time because I don’t tend to spend as much as other people (I am still a student though) and because I don’t want people to spend a lot on me. So I often feel unbalanced, in the sense that I can’t compete with the present-buying of those around me.

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