Christmas Around the World: Tokyo

“Are you all set for Christmas?” It’s a common refrain from now until 24th December. Christmas-related anxiety has become the accepted ‘norm’. And if the only date in your calendar for December is the holiday bin collection service, it can feel as though everyone else in the world is out partying every night, except you.

Welcome to the third feature in a new festive series where I invite favourite Instagrammers from around the world to share their stories on how they spend the Holiday Season. This week I interview award-winning travel writer, Rob Goss, about a typical Christmas in Tokyo.

Rob Goss, travel writer and newbie screenwriter

Rob Goss is a writer living in Tokyo. Originally from Devon in the UK, Rob is a travel writer covering Japan for international media, including the BBC and National Geographic Travel. He is also the author of seven books including Japan Traveler’s Companion a NATJA2018 Gold Prize-winner. @robgosswriter


So, early riser or late lie-in on the big day?
Lie in. Now my son is a teen, there’s no need to be up before brunch.

Dressing up. A glittery outfit – it’s Christmas after all – or your favourite Santa jumper?
I go full-on tacky. I put on my Plymouth Argyle Christmas jumper every year – a hideous green thing with Pilgrim Pete (Argyle’s mascot) on the front. But my wife makes me take it off if we go out anywhere which to be honest isn’t a bad call. I’m not sure if anyone in Tokyo would realize that Christmas sweaters are meant to be so garish.

Henry, Rob’s black shiba; “Hmmm. that smells good”. Photo courtesy Rob Goss.

A festive lunch with all the family or a late romantic supper for two? 
If we head back to Devon, it’s a big family lunch and dinner, but we tend to rotate and do one year in Japan, then one in England. Here we have my Japanese in-laws around for dinner on Christmas Day or Boxing Day, with turkey, sprouts, stuffing, crackers with awful jokes and hats, and so on – all of which takes a lot of legwork to get hold of in Tokyo. It’s lovely being able to share that side of the family culture with them.


L to R: A Japanese station poster ‘Careful when drunk at Christmas New Year’; A spotlight on tour guides post by @robgosswriter. Photos courtesy Rob Goss.

Do you put the decorations up on 1st December, complete with flashing reindeer on the roof, or add a last-minute sprig of holly here and there? In Tokyo, some shops start decorating almost right after the Halloween gear has come down. But we usually hold out until mid-December, then put up a tree with tacky lights, and get some tinsel up too. It’s amazing how much a few decorations can transform a Tokyo-sized flat – from minimalist to super gaudy in an afternoon. What’s odd about the Christmas decorations here is that most of them come down by the 26th or sometimes even on the 25th and then everything is geared to New Year’s. This is the traditional celebration and the main coming together for families. Christmas is just a bit of fun before that – good for sales, an excuse for a date or a nice meal, but with no real significance, and certainly no sense of the Christmas spirit on show.


Roppongi district, Tokyo, illuminations Photos courtesy Tokyo Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Gift giving, ‘it’s the thought that counts’ or ‘any excuse to splurge’? It’s the thought that counts! I married an Osakan, and they are notoriously cheap. Usually, we wait for the New Year’s sales like everyone else in Japan but also give gifts on the day to our son. Plus, there’s usually some that come from family in England. The dog gets something too – often more than I get.


I’m not sure if anyone in Tokyo would realize that Christmas sweaters are meant to be so garish.

Rob Goss, travel writer based in Tokyo.


Do you have your own Christmas traditions that make the season particularly special for you and yours?
Not really. We just have some things we do that came with me from England. So, Santa and the reindeers get left a snack (and strong ale). It’s always a day off too. It’s not a public holiday in Japan but we always take the 25th off. There are a couple of Japanese Christmas traditions though: one is for people to have KFC on either Christmas Day or the days leading up to it. Apparently that’s the result of a marketing campaign from the 1970s. Another is that, with the illuminations and decorations supposedly being a bit romantic, Christmas Eve is the biggest date night of the year for younger singles.


“In Japan, Christmas Eve is traditonally a date night”.


Slideshow. Tokyo: a Water Bus; Tokyo Gate Bridge; the Rainbow Bridge; aerial view at night. Photos courtesy Go Tokyo.


Has the pandemic changed how you will be celebrating the festive season, and if so, how?
In Tokyo, it’s not made too much of a difference. It’s always been a low key thing at home for us. The main change is that my in-laws couldn’t come for Christmas dinner last year. The biggest change for us is that we’ve not been able to go to the UK and I doubt we can this year. Our last trip back was 2018. Ordinarily we’d be back once a year, either in summer or for Xmas…fingers crossed it’s not much longer.


Rob’s first script Nine to Death was nominated for Best Unproduced Short Script category at the San Francisco Indie Short Festival 2021. Follow Rob on Instagram @robgosswriter or visit www.tokyofreelance.com

Next week I interview Tamera Beardsley, Fashion Accessory Designer @tamerabeardsley, living in Southern California.

Catch up with more Christmas Around the World interviews below. Share your own traditions and festive photos on Twitter and Instagram #christmasaroundtheworld and link up with a tag @hashtagtravelin. And if you enjoyed this blog feature please ‘Like’ below, so I know you’re out there!


However, you choose to spend the Holiday Season, I wish you peace and joy.

The Ancestral Nomad family geneaology. www.theancestralnomad.com.

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