It may seem silly if you've never been here, but a lot of the things that show up point out the so very Japanesey things that happen at Christmas here, like the KFC chicken as a substitute for a Christmas dinner and changing the idea of Christmas lights to "winter illumination festivals". So very true and very, very wrong. That being said, I was on the way out to see some "illumination" with my girlfriend on Christmas when the norovirus fairy sent us promptly back home - ghah, scary!!
By the way, for any of you that may in the future think of spending Christmas in Japan then here's some advice:
- Don't. Christmas is much better anywhere else, even if it's a vacation spot nowhere near where you're from. Thailand's nice, go check that out instead and come back afterward.
- If you really insist on staying and have a Japanese girlfriend (really about the only acceptable reason for staying as I see it since you really have to have someone to share the holidays with around here), remember that everything is celebrated on Christmas Eve and not Christmas. This includes exchanging of presents, seeing "illuminations", going to expensive restaurants and staying at expensive (love) hotels. And yes, this basically amounts to a $500 Valentine's Day and has nothing to do with Jesus. Hallmark, eat your heart out.
- Really, just go somewhere else. Just about everywhere in Japan (especially outside of Tokyo) closes down for a few days for New Year's, so you can't even really have fun anywhere unless you want to spend time with family/friends, which can usually be done better elsewhere. This closing includes all banking services, all retail stores, many restaurants... shrines will however be open and busy due to Japanese traditions of visiting them for New Year's Day.