Everyone’s favorite melting pot of paganism, Christianity and consumerism has come around once again and, as usual, we’re here to enjoy the Japanese take on the festive season. Some have made the argument that because Christmas is an imported tradition with no religious connotations in Japan, the holiday is purely a consumer-driven tradition. Nevertheless, if you’re intent on holding a Japanese-themed Christmas party or you’re hosting one in Japan, then here are some of the best of the worst relevant songs, presented in the chronological order of a dinner party.
Mariya Takeuchi, “Suteki na Holiday“
Foreigners seem to love the fact that Japanese people associate Kentucky Fried Chicken with Christmas. In homage to that quirk, we have to include the iconic Kentucky kurisumasu song, “Suteki na Holiday” (“Happy, Happy Holidays”). Although it’s a classic, if you’re relatively sane it’s not something you’re likely to listen to intentionally outside of the season. Nevertheless, it’s iconic, catchy and features some great katakana English. We couldn’t find the original, so here’s the KFC version over and over again.
As you’re setting the table in a Disney-style fashion with help from anthropomorphized mops, local animals and a fairy.
“Christmas is coming this year
In order to wipe out all sad incidents that happened,
let’s wear pajamas and get out
and run past roadside trees that gradually turn white.”
Shonen Knife, “All I Want for Christmas”
Shonen Knife, those pioneers of “mom rock”, weren’t scared of releasing a Christmas single. It’s got their signature sound, but unfortunately mediocre mixing and katakana English have taken the lyrics to the Nirvana-level of unintelligibility.
When you’re waiting for the first guest to arrive and the music seems overly cheerful for an empty room.
“All I want for Christmas is [???]… “
Hirakawachi 1-chome, “Kitto Santa Ga“
Riding the crest of the early 2000s alt-rock boom is Hiarakawachi 1-chome’s Christmas hit “Kitto Santa Ga” (“Surely Santa”). It sounds like it could easily have been arranged by a band like Savage Garden or Blessed Union of Souls if they were into making Christmas albums. It’s one of the few songs on this list you could listen to outside of the season and is a safe bet for any Japanese Christmas party — or dinner party — playlist.
Finally, your guests are arriving, meandering around not knowing where to sit and introducing themselves to each other.
“I was told that if I’m a good boy, Santa will definitely come
And even now, I really do believe that.”
Matsuura Aya, “Merry X’mas for You”
A soothing and smooth pop Christmas song from 2001. It’s easy listening at its finest. If only the songwriter had paid attention in their junior high school English lessons on how to distinguish between “for” and “to.”
As dinner is being served, when the conversation is scant and people are listening to the background music and politely asking each other to pass things.
“Merry Christmas, merry Christmas for you.”
Glay, “Christmas Ring”
Glay’s song is more of his Christmas complaint list than an actual song, so as such it’s pretty melodramatic. It’s soft enough to round out your Christmas playlist — up until the sudden face-melting guitar solo at the end.
Finally, dinner is on the way and the music can take a breather. Queue your filler songs here and turn the volume down.
“I hate how everyone’s so busy in December
The neon lights burn into my retina.”
Ryuichi Sakamoto, “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence”
This is an interesting piano piece that mixes oriental scales with festive themes to class up your Christmas in Japan. It’s still definitely Christmas music, but not obviously so.
During dessert when the group raconteur is recounting an amazing story from the year, this song will punctuate every twist along the way.
Judy and Mary, “Christmas”
Every playlist needs some punk-rock sensibilities and for this, we turn to Judy and Mary. Yeah, it’s Christmas-themed, but it’s a wistful love song for the Christmas season.
Save this for the late middle of the dinner when you shift into party mode, somewhere between after several drinks and when folks start wandering away from the table.
“Rather than you smile and saying ‘We are friends,’
Please leave me alone now so that I can have a good cry.”
Tommy Heavenly6, “I♥Xmas”
If Avril Lavigne was from Kanagawa and not Canada, she would be making songs like this. Saccharine teenage pop dreams driven by lightly distorted guitars and angsty articulations.
After an hour talking with that cutie when you start flirting in the kitchen.
“I suddenly became frustrated and tears overflowed.”
Midori Karashima, “Silent Eve”
It seems that unrequited love is a common Christmas theme in Japan, and “Silent Eve” is no exception. It was the Christmas song for 1990 and 1991. From the electric piano to the soap opera-dream lighting in the music, everything about it screams late-80s.
The end of the party when you want to send the last straggling guests home.
“But why aren’t you here on this special night?”
Fukuyama Masaharu, “Kissin’ in the Holy Night”
If you’d rather be sipping whisky in an izakaya than drinking cocoa at home, then this is your Japanese go-to. Fukuyama’s smoky vocals and bright acoustic accompaniment are reminiscent of a higher-pitched Johnny Cash. It’s so maudlin that it’s on the brink of inadvertent satire, but the blues turnarounds will keep you listening to the end.
When the guests have left and you are contemplating how much cleaning you have to do.
“Because I will not check it, I will not stare it
You do not have to say anything
Let me sip a little more like this.”