How Japanese People Shop During Japan’s Christmas Holiday Shopping Season

Tokyoesque
8 min readSep 13, 2023

By Natsune Oki (05/11/2021)

November and December are considered the biggest holidays across the world and in the retail calendar. We will examine how people spend these holidays and shop during this biggest shopping season in Japan.

Source: hiropee.com/?p=1933

What are Japanese holidays like in November and December?

In international calenders, November and December contain the most exciting events for shoppers. In November, you have black Friday followed by Cyber Monday, both of which were started in the States.

What is Black Friday?

Black Friday is the day that follows the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, which is considered to be a traditional holiday for many employees in America. On this day, companies offer great discounts and promotions, and it marks the start of the Christmas shopping season. Black Friday originated from the stock market crash of September 24, 1869, when the price of gold suddenly dropped significantly. As a result, stores experienced poor sales — retail stores were “in the red”. To combat this, these retail stores decided to have big promotions and sales to make up for the lost sales. The day after Thanksgiving, merchants were “in the black” again because of these all buyers spending their money on discounted items.

The question is, do people shop on Black Friday in Japan?

The answer is YES. The term “Black Friday” is still new to many and is not necessarily recognized by all nations. It is a term that is becoming quite popular in recent years. For example, if you look up “what is black Friday” in Japanese, many articles come up and there is even a Wikipedia page for it. People also hear this word on TV often around this season. In Japan, Black Friday tends to happen right after Labor Thanksgiving Day ( 勤労感謝の日) which is on the November 23rd. This means, Japan’s Black Friday is usually a week before the States.

So how did this all start? This shopping craze is a recent phenomenon, with its inception being in 2016. Black Friday became the scale of its size today when companies like Nojima and Aeon launched Black Friday for the first time in Japan in 2016. In 2019, Amazon also joined the wave.

Source: Nojima
Source: Amazon Japan

According to research conducted by a private company, Shufoo, about the Black Friday sales (n=10,505) 75.1% of people in this study answered they knew ‘what Black Friday is’ compared to 30.9% in 2017.

Source: Shufoo

In the same study, almost 60% of the same people answered that they want to shop on Black Friday, which is not only a significantly high number, but also very promising considering Black Friday was only introduced to Japan five years ago.

Source: Shufoo

What is Cyber Monday?

Cyber Monday is another significant day for retailers. The word Cyber Monday was coined by the American businesswoman Ellen Davis, senior vice president of research and strategic initiatives for the National Retail Federation. The NRF had noted a significant increase in online shopping revenues on the Monday following Thanksgiving and the trend continued. So they named the Monday following Thanksgiving “Cyber Monday” and promoted this day to be the day to encourage online shoppers in 2005. Compared to Black Friday, Cyber Monday is still quite young.

Is Cyber Monday a thing in Japan? The answer is Yes and No. In Japan, Amazon calls the second Monday of December “Cyber Monday” and Japanese consumers seem to associate Cyber Monday with Amazon. There has been a report that stated that Amazon had the most sales in the name of “Amazon Cyber Monday” during the New Year season while another report (n=1000) showed that 82% of respondents answered that they either still don’t know what “Cyber Monday” is or that they know of it but they don’t fully understand the concept of it. In this way, Black Friday is more well-known in Japan.

Data source: https://trend-research.jp/5797/

In December, Japan celebrates both Christmas and New Year. You may be wondering “How do Japanese people celebrate Christmas other than eating “KFC Christmas Japan”?

Christmas in Japan is not a time for family gatherings, but rather a holiday for couples. On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, couples are likely to go to Christmas events and marvel together at the beautiful Christmas lights. Saying this, Christmas is not limited as a couple’s holiday in Japan — you can find many young families celebrating Christmas together.

Eating Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Day is somewhat Japanese christmas traditions now, thanks to KFC’s Uncle Colonel’s marketing strategies. Nowadays, it is hard to disassociate Christmas from KFC in Japan, as it has become somewhat ingrained as part of the culture.

Photo by CNN/ Yuichi Yamazaki/Getty Images

What about shopping?

While Christmas is not considered a gift-giving day like elsewhere in the world, it is very common for couples to exchange Christmas gifts as an act of romance. Girlfriends especially tend to expect boyfriends to buy them gifts. Another sector that gets a piece of the pie from this “for-couple-event” is lingerie brands. It is common for females to buy lingeries that are Christmas-themed for this very special day.

Single people are likely to go to nightclubs or other events to ensure that they are not alone on Christmas. Some may also buy gifts for themselves to make up for not having a boyfriend or girlfriend. In such ways, the spirit of Christmas is deeply associated with a day to celebrate with a lover.

Like in the West, Japanese parents also buy toys for their children as Santa Claus. Parents ask their children what they want in advance and deliver the present “on behalf of Santa Claus.” You can also find Santa Claus boots filled with snacks being sold. It is very common for parents to buy these boots for their kids.

Source: https://gift.biglobe.ne.jp/rankings/28510/

Now let’s move on to the New Year.

It is common for people to party on New Year’s eve around the world, but Japan is an exception. In Japan, people go back to their hometowns to see their families on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. It is common to visit a shrine on New Year’s Eve to wish for a happy upcoming year. People also spend this day eating a lot of food and watching TV. On the day of the New year’s Eve, there are exclusive TV programs that run for 24 hours. People also eat “year crossing noodle” (toshikoshi-soba) when the clock strikes midnight and December 31st becomes January 1st.

Another tradition that happens around this time is “Otoshidama”. Adult members of family (including uncle, aunt, cousin etc. — not parents necessarily) are expected to give small amounts of cash to the kid members of their families, normally amounting somewhere between 5,000 yen to 30,000 yen that is equivalent to 50–300 euros.

Do people shop on New Year’s Day?

New Year’s sales are perhaps the most traditional sales out of all the shopping days we have discussed above.

The answer is absolutely YES. We have Hatsuuri (the first sale of the year) (初売り) that has been around for many years. Up until the 1980s, many retailers had this “Hatsuuri” sale on or after January 4th (which is the first day government administration offices are back to work, called Shigoto Hajime). Today, companies are still usually closed on the 1st of January, but many supermarkets and department stores start their Hatsuuri on the 2nd of January. Another thing you’d see on this day is “fukubukuro” (grab bags). These bags contain a bundle of mystery goods from a store, and customers can try their luck for the year. In many clothing stores, these fukubukuro price ranges vary from over 10,000 yen to 50,000 yen that is equivalent to 100–500 euros depending on the brand.

Source: Asahi Shimbun

A smaller segment to consider is Otoshidama. Stationery items such as an envelope are sold as a lot of adult members of families need to buy them to give Otoshidama to their young kid family members (money is traditionally given in envelopes). Some toy sales might also go up because some children might decide to buy toys with the money they get from their Otoshidama.

Source: Unsplash

What should you keep in mind as a foreign company breaking into the Japanese market around New Year?

As we mentioned, all the above events are exciting days for retailers, with perhaps the exception of Cyber Monday in Japan. While Cyber Monday is still growing its momentum to make its name in Japan, shoppers are still willing to spend a lot of money on these holidays. If you have a product that you want to sell to the Japanese market, it is worth looking into how you can take advantage of these Japanese shoppers’ behavior during the holiday season. Tokyoesque can help you to make a customized report for your question. Whether you sell clothes, watches, fitness goods, supplements, food, drinks, electric devices, whatever it might be, we can create fully customized reports on how companies are selling their products in your sector and create a strategy for you that is related to the Japanese retail calendar. If you have a question, feel free to get in touch with us for a free 60 mins consultation!

Keep checking back or follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter to get notified about our latest posts. We’ll be adding more articles on seasonal and cultural occasions in Japan, so watch this space!

--

--

Tokyoesque

Japan-EU market entry and expansion consultancy driven by market research. Based in London and Amsterdam, we provide cultural insights with real impact in Japan