Japan takes “losing sight of the true meaning of Christmas” to new heights. Forget baby Jesus, advent calendars, and caroling—even secular traditions are almost unrecognizable here.
Japanese Christmas is celebrated by going on a fancy dinner date with one’s significant other, eating fried chicken and shortcake, or going to see illuminations (a tradition that grew out of Kobe earthquake commemorations).
Alternately, Japanese Christmas is just another workday.
The rules for presents are a little different too. In some households, children only receive presents until the end of elementary school; it seems that kids not believing in Santa anymore frees parents from any gift-giving obligation.
On the other hand, gift exchanges between couples adds another layer of stress to the already high-stakes Christmas date. I mean, I’m sure they enjoy it. Probably.
In the face of all this culture shock, Christmas-celebrating gaijin often flock together like penguins in an Antarctic blizzard to find just a little holiday cheer that feels like home. But come to think of it, there’s one Christmas tradition that Japan might be uniquely suited for: White elephant parties.
For those who have never been blessed (cursed?) with a white elephant, it’s a group gift exchange game in which the presents are intentionally funny or undesirable. According to popular belief—or any trip to Don Quijote—Japan should be a treasure trove of gag gifts.
Here are a few ideas to get your white elephant party rolling.
1. Eye-catching toilet paper
In Japan, we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to unique toilet paper. Latona Marketing’s The Fruits set is cute but sells out fast. Hayashi Paper’s banbix shop has a range of designs, including Japanese castles, logs, and seasonal events including Christmas. Finally, Hanebisho doesn’t come cheap, but one ultra-plush roll might be just what you need during bonenkai season.
2. A little something from Condomania
Remember the iconic condom shop that used to live at the big Omotesando intersection in Harajuku? It may have stepped out of the spotlight—to the immense relief of the respectable 2020 Olympic planners, I’m sure—but the shop still has locations in Harajuku, Shibuya, and Kobe, as well as an online store (Japanese only). Wares include lollipop, chocolate milk, and Rilakkuma-themed condoms.
3. Parasite goods
The Meguro Parasitological Museum is well-known as a quirky and free thing to do in Tokyo. And guess what—they have a store! Some of the T-shirt options approach being legitimately cute, but the postcard set and clear files still have that white elephant wow factor.
4. Unusual meibutsu gift basket
Japan is wild for meibutsu, famous local dishes, and food products. Though generally delicious, once pickling and canning become involved things can get a little funky. Many cities have a space dedicated to selling a variety of local products, a convenient one-stop-shop for assembling a gift basket to amaze and frighten your friends. Online store めいぶつチョイス (Meibutsu Choice) is your one-stop-shop for regional foods, including the WTF variety.
5. IOU a wild time
Gift cards and IOUs may seem like cop-out presents, but with so many unique experiences to be had in Japan, it would be a shame to exclude them. Offer to bankroll a trip to an ear-cleaning salon, an outing with a rental goat, or even an ossan (middle-aged man), a slumber party at a themed love hotel, or teatime at a vampire cafe. The possibilities are endless.