Christmas Eve in Japan, Just for Couples?

By Mike Sullivan

It has been recently trending in the news and social media about a sign put up in a Japanese restaurant saying that couples aren’t welcome on Christmas Eve. It was started by a restaurant called PiaPia in Hachioji in Tokyo which put up a handwritten notice which ended up getting a lot of notice. The notice states ‘当店スタッフの精神的ダメージが強いため12月24日はカップルの入店をお断りさせて頂きます” which means that in order to stop staff members getting emotional damage that couples will be refused entry on the 24th of December.

However, this isn’t just for staff members, who having to work won’t be with their loved ones, it is also for single customers so that they don’t have to see couples on that day. But, why is it so upsetting to see couples on Christmas eve? For us in the West it sounds more like something you might hear on the run up to Valentine’s Day

You can read the full article as reported by a British newspaper here:

So why do Japanese people associate Christmas Eve with being a day to go on a date? It certainly hasn’t been imported by the West, people are more likely to go to a pub or bar on this day, or stay home with the kids. Well, in fact Christians are a minority in Japan, Christmas Day is not a national holiday and is just a normal working day. There is no real tradition for this day, something which was exploited by KFC in 1974 and which has been so successful that today it has become ingrained in the national consciousness that on the 25th of December everyone eats fried chicken.

Though, certainly this day isn’t for going on a date. If you are familiar with Japanese cinema and have seen the film ‘Departures’ (おくりびと) you will remember one scene where after work the main character and his boss and co-worker sit down together to eat fried chicken.

KFC managed to win Christmas Day in the 1970s (and ever since), but a number of other companies decided to reinvent Christmas Eve in the 1980s during Japan’s boom years. With a population flush with money, and needing little excuse to spend it, advertisers hit on the idea that Christmas Eve should be the day to spoil your loved one. Lifestyle magazines offered advice on what to do or buy, a Tiffany pendant heart pendant was almost an obligation, and even pop singers got in on the act with music about love and Christmas.

Despite a much weaker economy, nothing has really changed today. Christmas Eve has become similar to Valentine’s Day. Magazines are still full of what you need to do on this day, and socially it has become a mark of success to go to an expensive restaurant (with the best places being booked out months in advance), while not having a Christmas Date is looked down on.

So, returning to PiaPia, does it still seem strange that they are refusing entry to couples? If we take into the account the amount of pressure on people to go on a date on this day shouldn’t their actions be in fact applauded? If a restaurant in the US or Europe did this on Valentine’s Day wouldn’t they find many singletons flocking to them?

Everything is always about context, which is why this restaurant forbidding entry to couples has been picked up by the news, taken out of context it seems strange, but if we look at the context of the situation then it seems perfectly reasonable. However, more to the point if PiaPia becames full of singletons on Christmas Eve, then maybe love may blossom anyway.

A final point to make is if you happen to visit Japan and will be in the country on the 24th of December, don’t be surprised if you can’t get into a nice restaurant!