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Festive Winter Goods For This Holiday Season

Introduction 

The holiday season wouldn't be complete without mall Santa's, Christmas trees and New Years streamers. While Japan celebrates  both New Years and Christmas they have their own gifts and customs that make them special. 

Like western countries, Japanese stores start selling festive items during winter and have special sales that get everyone into the holiday spirit. This time of the year can be both hectic because people are running around buying gifts and decorations, but it can also be a great time to snatch up some good deals. Here are a couple things to be on the lookout for during your shopping spree. 

Christmas

Although Japan does celebrate Christmas there aren't many Christians in Japan (less than 1%). This isn't a national holiday, so no one gets a day off work or school. Despite this, the country is lit up with sparkling lights and malls are spewing out tiny gifts, Christmas trees, ornaments and...cake!

1. Strawberry Shortcake
I'm sure were all familiar with this tasty treat. This spongy cake is marketed as "Christmas Cake" in Japan and is a common dessert eaten among family and friends. Each cake is presented beautifully with strawberries delicately placed on top and sliced strawberries lining the inside. You can purchase ready made cakes at the supermarket, or order them from specialty bakeries where they add little trees, or other decorations.

On Christmas day, after everyone has come home this cake is eaten after KFC dinner.
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Strawberry shortcake is also common at birthdays. A special edible plate with the person's name written in icing is sat on top of the icing.

2. The Classics
Christmas trees, tree ornaments, toy reindeer etc. are all sold in Japanese supermarkets as winter starts to roll in. You can also find Christian decorations such as the nativity scene sold at malls, supermarkets and the Christmas villages that pop up around the major cities. Some ornaments and other decorations stray away from traditional designs and incorporate Japanese culture.
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Stores also sell Santa, Elf and Mrs. Santa costumes to really get people into the spirit!

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3. Christmas Villages
These are hardly different from the West which should alleviate any homesickness you have. Here, you'll find German food stalls selling sausages and hot coco to warm your heart. There are also little shops selling homemade home decor as well as gifts for you to bring back home.
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Christmas villages occur only in major cities and are either weekend only events, or only pop up on December 25th.

4. Christmas Bento Boxes
Bento are Japanese lunch boxes that the wife often makes for her husband and kids before they leave to go to school or work. On December 25th supermarkets will sell pre-made Christmas themed bento boxes. Common ingredients that make up bento boxes will be shaped into stockings, wreaths, Santa, and snowflakes. What makes these special is that they're only sold on December 25th, of course you can still make them yourself if you really want to.
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5. Christmas Wagashi
Wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets that are soft, sweet and delicious! Vendors will shape them differently depending on the season or holiday. During Christmas wagashi are shaped to look like reindeer, Santa, snowmen, Christmas trees etc.
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No matter the season, however, the flavors will stay the same. Customers can choose from the following flavors: red bean, green tea or burdock root.

6. Figures and Greeting Cards
There are a plethora of special gifts that can be found in  supermarketsthat'll make anyone smile.

One gift that raises in popularity every Christmas are tiny Cup Fuchiko. These are tiny girl figurines that hang on the side of your cup and can be found in vending machines or in supermarkets. The Christmas edition features the girl in a variety of Santa costumes.
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In addition to cute accessories for your coco mug supermarkets also stock up on fancy greeting cards to send to your friends and family. Customers can purchase 3-D cards featuring skylines, geisha, Christmas trees, reindeer and elves.

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New Years

New Years is a national holiday where citizens usually have a week off of school and work. During this time there are huge sales and people purchase special items and decorate their homes to celebrate the coming year.

1. Washi Paper Clock
These are popular New Years gifts to give to your friends. Washi is Japanese paper that comes in a variety of colors and designs. Common designs include zodiac signs and kanji numbers of characters. The washi paper adorns a large wooden wall clock.
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2. Noren Curtains
These curtains usually hang on restaurant door frames and have slits in them so people to easily walk through them. These curtains provide both decorative and practical purposes for a person's home. The design adds something unique to the room while the curtain itself prevents dust and too much sunlight from getting in.
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3. Kokeshi Dolls
Also known as sayonara dolls, these are popular gifts to give to young girls. Kokeshi dolls are made of wood and have a cylindrical body with a round head. You can personalize the doll by adding the recipients name, or ordering a custom made doll.
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4. Lucky Shopping Bags
Every year major department stores collect items and put them into sealed shopping bags that people can buy for a set price. Items aren't usually disclosed to customers, but sometimes stores will reveal whats inside of them so people aren't disappointed. Lucky bags are placed either at the entrance or in the middle of the store.
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These bags sell out fast, their popularity is due to the fact that the items inside are worth more than what the bag is sold for, so you can get a lot of good things for little money. Sometimes, stores will put expensive jewelry inside worth up to 10,000 yen!

Unfortunately, the surprise nature of these bags mean that you can get a lot of things you don't want. Unlucky bags are called "fukobukuro" (literally, misfortune bag) and can leave customers feeling let down.
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The items in the bag will depend on what store you're going to - if you go to a cosmetic store you'll get makeup, if you go to an electronics store there'll be electronics in the bag. With the growing popularity of these bags they're starting to be sold during Christmas.

These bags are meant to draw up more business towards the end of the year and it seems to be working. Even though their selling items for less than they're worth people keep coming back even after the New Year.

5. Furoshiki
This is a very traditional Japanese gift. Furoshiki are very versatile pieces of cloth that can be used to carry or wrap anything. They're still used to wrap bento boxes and other precious items, but they have been replaced by purses when it comes to carrying a greater quantity of items.

The cloth can be made of silk or satin and can have a variety of beautiful designs. Although, this gift has evolved to be more of a decorative item it can still be used in everyday life as it was back in olden times.
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6. Otoshidama and Postcards
During the middle of December Japanese people order and send New Year's Day postcards to everyone they know. The Japanese postal system works very hard to make sure these postcards arrive on January first if they are marked nengajoo (New Year's Day postcard) and are sent during a certain time frame. You can personalize the card with a message.

 These  post cards also have a lottery number at the bottom and on New Year's Day someone wins prizes if their number is called on Japanese TV.
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Otoshidama are envelopes of money given by adults to children and teenagers. The amount of money depends on how old the child is, but it usually ranges between 500 - 10,000 yen. This is usually a great time for kids and a little bit of a painful one for adults depending on how many kids they have to give money to.
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7. Kagami Mochi
Mochi flower is purchased from stores and is pounded to make Kagami mochi. Two round pieces of mochi are stacked on top of each other with a yuzu on top and leaves, konbu and dried persimmons underneath it. The mochi sits on a stand that has gohei folded into lightning shapes underneath it. The purpose of Kagami mochi is to appease Toshigami, the God of the New Year, to bring good luck during the New Year.
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You can buy Kagami mochi that has already been pre-molded into stacked discs at the supermarket.  Kagami mochi is usually displayed on the Shinto Shrine inside a person's home. 

Conclusion

As you can see the Japanese New Year is like Christmas here in the states. They both hold significant meaning and bring good times to everyone involved. While it can be hectic and crowded during the holidays you can still have fun and nab some great deals, gifts and other items to bring back home! 

Resources: 
1. https://theculturetrip.com/asia/japan/articles/how-to-celebrate-christmas-in-japan/
2. http://www.coca-colacompany.com/stories/beyond-a-traditional-holiday-15-unique-ways-to-celebrate-in-japan
3. https://matcha-jp.com/en/3747
4. http://www.123newyear.com/newyear-gifts/japanese.html
5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_New_Year#Mochi
6. https://livejapan.com/en/article-a0000772/
7. http://muza-chan.net/japan/index.php/blog/traditional-japanese-new-year-decoration-kagamimochi

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