- 1. “Your Lover Is Your Santa Claus” by Matsutoya yumi 恋人がサンタクロース
- 2. “Christmas Eve” by Taro Yamashita 山下達郎のクリスマス・イヴ
- 3. “Chicken Rice” by Masatoshi Hamada and Noriyuki Makihara チキンライス
- 4. “I just want to spend Christmas with you like this again this year” by KAN 今年もこうして二人でクリスマスを祝う
- 5. “December” by Sion 12月
- 6. “A Lovely holiday” by Mariya Takeuchi 素敵なホリデイ
- 7. “Merry Christmas” by Bump of Chicken
- 8. Hurry Xmas L’arc~en~ciel~
- 9. “Meri Kuri” by BoA メリクリ
- 10. “A “”Merry Christmas”” Sometime” by B’z いつかのメリークリスマス
Previously, I’ve written about the 20 most popular Christmas songs as voted by Japanese people.
Some of these songs I like, some I don’t so I thought it would be good put together my list of my own top 10 japanese Christmas songs. Some of them are mega hits. Some of them are a little bit more niche.
They generally, once again, reflect the Japanese perspective as Christmas being mostly about love between couples.
1. “Your Lover Is Your Santa Claus” by Matsutoya yumi 恋人がサンタクロース
This one is such a mega-Christmas hit in Japan, a song so ubiquitous around the streets of shopping malls and restaurants that it has to come at the top of the list.
The song is a toe-tapping, 80s pop rock number originally written and recorded by Matsuyoya Yumi (known colloquially as “Yumin” in japan) recorded December 1, 1980 on her album “SURF & SNOW”. It was used in the soundtrack of the movie “Take Me Out to the Snow” and covered by pop superstar Seiko Matsuda on her Christmas album in 1982.
The song is so influential in Japan that some writers have argued that this song actually changed the course of Christmas culture and history in Japan from something more about family and religion, to an event that is about lovers.
There are not too many songs that can say that.
I must admit that the first time I heard the song I thought it was someone saying that Santa Claus was their lover. Which sounded kind of icky.
But, on closer inspection, it is actually the opposite.
The lyrics talk about seeing your lover as your “Santa Claus”. In this way, it’s actually quite similar to the song “I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus”.
Once a trendy looking lady
sitting by me on the train
said on Christmas day
Santa’s coming to my house at eight
I said, ““Don’t you know that’s just a story
from the picture books””
She just winked at me and told me
“You’ll get it when you grow up, take another look”.
2. “Christmas Eve” by Taro Yamashita 山下達郎のクリスマス・イヴ
Tatsuro Yamashita’s Christmas Eve has to be in the top three Japanese Christmas songs. It is perhaps one of the best known Japanese Christmas songs.
Tatsuro Yamashita’s Christmas anthem has many of the tropes you would want from a Christmas song and more. It’s even got choral interludes of people singing Pachabel’s Canon style melodies. It makes an obvious reference to Silent night. It’s got bells, it’s got 80s synths.
The song lyrics reflect the Japanese emphasis that is placed on Christmas Eve as being the night for romance. I’ve written before about how Japan’s Christmas eve is close to the Western Valentine’s day.
The protagonist of the song is portrayed waiting in the street for his love to arrive, but knowing in his heart of hearts that they are never going to come.
Oh, the Japanese obsession with ennui…
Silent night, Holy night
Silent night, Holy night
In the small hours of the night
I guess the rain will turn to snow
Silent night, Holy Night
I know you won’t come
It’s going to be a lonely Christmas Eve
Silent night, Holy Night”
3. “Chicken Rice” by Masatoshi Hamada and Noriyuki Makihara チキンライス
If you’re looking for a Christmas song that doesn’t so much try and recreate a Western style Christmas song but presents an authentically Japanese perspective on the festive season, this is it.
This song isn’t some kind of massive hit as the first two on the list, but it is my personal favorite.
The lyrics are written from a person from a poor family looking back at their childhood Christmases and reminiscing about how they only had enough money to buy “chicken rice”. Chicken rice is considered very much a dish of the people. The singer goes on to say that, even today, now that they have enough money to buy a turkey, they still prefer the good old Chicken Rice.
The song also uses food, in a way that you often see in television programs such as Midnight Diner, to symbolise an emotion that is hard to put into words. In this case, it is an emotion, or a value, that is particularly strong in Japanese, and Asian, cultures. The value of “filial piety” or caring for your parents. The singer is saying “it’s okay mom and dad, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t have a lot of money to spend on Christmas. I appreciate all you did and I love you for it.”
It’s quite beautiful really – and in a very Japanese way.
The song is perhaps given all the more effect with the lead part on the original song being sung not by a professional singer but a comedian. Hamada Masatoshi is one half of perhaps the most successful comedy duo of the last half a century: Downtown. They are known for their down-to-earth, Osaka everyday man humor. Sung together with pop mega-star singer-songwriter Makihara Noriyuki (who wrote the song), they give the song a no-nonsense, everyday-jo rendition that is perfect for expressing the lyrics.
It’s Christmas Time
The city is alive with a festive spirit
A turkey just seems to over-the-top for me
I still just love my Chicken-Rice”
4. “I just want to spend Christmas with you like this again this year” by KAN 今年もこうして二人でクリスマスを祝う
Released in 1999 and reaching 89 in the Japanese Oricon charts, this song by Kan Kimura sounds something like the Beatles’s “Yesterday” mixed with silent night. It has more religious references in the lyrics than any of the other songs on the list.
As with many Japanese Christmas songs, you get the sense that Kan had the song “Silent Night” in his mind as he wrote his own song:
Outside the window, all is white
And the holy night is deep
As the dancing snow
Collects upon the ground as you sleep”
There is something immediately touching, heart warming and moving about this song and the way it’s protagonist simply and sincerely expresses their love for the special someone in their life. It is not clear whether this special someone is a lover, a child or other family member. But the song’s message is perhaps all the stronger for the level of ambiguity afforded the subject of the singer’s deep affection.
5. “December” by Sion 12月
Sion’s song “December” is not what you would call a typical “Christmas Song” and definitely not a big hit like many of the other songs on this list. It’s more a “musician’s choice” song, one that gets chosen by songwriters in the know.
It’s another one highlighting a character that is lonely at Christmas. With Japan’s emphasis on lover’s romance at Christmas time, it is no surprise that there are so many that feel a little left out.
Sion’s song paints a picture of a cold, uncaring city immersed in the sounds of John Lennon singing “Merry Christmas, War Is Over” but ringing strangely empty for all those less fortunate in live and love:
The city feels like Christmas, as if
It’s trying to remember
You hear John Lennon’s voice from every direction and
As for me
It is the time to be
Feeling like there’s something I left behind
‘Tis the season for regret”
6. “A Lovely holiday” by Mariya Takeuchi 素敵なホリデイ
This one is perhaps the closest to what we consider a standard, Western cheerful Christmas song. It is written from the perspective of a mother to her child, expressing the anticipation of a magical Christmas day.
“Even the teddy bears that the children cuddle quietly in their sleep
Can hardly wait!
Christmas is coming again this year
To erase the sad events
We’ll take off our pajamas and head out
Run through the roadside trees that are gradually turning white
The city is all of a sudden splendorous
By the time we’ve decided on the presents, it will be twilight
And Mom will warm your icy-cold fingers”
It certainly expresses a feeling that us Westerners can easily understand!
7. “Merry Christmas” by Bump of Chicken
Released in 2009, the song “Merry Christmas” was released by band Bump of Chicken together with the song R.I.P (not very Christmas sounding).
“Merry Christmas” has an indie band feel, mixed with a strong Irish music influence replete with whistle and alternating key changes. In this way, it is somewhat reminiscent of the Pogues classic Christmas Song “Fairytale of New York”.
The lyrics to the song are some of the most sophisticated of any on this list with detailed imagery being painted of a city that is aloof, yet willing to remember what is important at Christmas. In this way, this song captures wonderfully the universal love that Western people associate with Noel.
To translate a section:
許せずにいる事 解らない事 認めたくない事 話せない事
The things you can’t forgive
The things you can’t’ understand
The things you can’t accept
The things you can’t talk about
Tonight, can’t we just be kind?
Can’t we just hold to all of these and smile?
Can’t you just be kind to me also?
Can’t I just smile and have fun with you?
Can’t we just smile?
8. Hurry Xmas L’arc~en~ciel~
The glam rock band released this unexpectedly brass and string laden classic sounding Christmas song in 2007. The song reached no.2 on the Japanese charts, so the band released alternate versions again in 2008, 2009 and 2010, scoring top ten hits with it each time.
Not bad for an essentially nostalgic, throw-back to another era song by a stadium hard rock band.
The lyrics to the song depict a typically Japanese romantic, partying Christmas scene:
甘くはじけるグラスへと注いだら so sweet!
さあパーティーの始まりさ come on music
Steal the night sky, set the candle alight
Set the stars to float in your beloved eyes
And pour yourself into the sweetly bubbling glass
It’s time to party
9. “Meri Kuri” by BoA メリクリ
Japanese people love reducing words down to four sounds, for easy pronunciation. Merry Christmas when spoken in a Japanese as メリークリスマス has a mouth-cripling seven sounds, and is so widely used that it is a natural candidate for the linguistic chop.
Boa picked up on this colloquial coining of a Japanese version of “Merry Christmas” as “meri-kuri” and put it in a song. Genius.
Mariah Carey is huge in Japan, and is probably one of the top 5 foreign Christmas-song-artists in Japan. I think you can hear some of that influence in this BoA song, and it is one of the cheesier mainstream sounding songs on the list.
The song centres quite cleverly around the concept of snow being the true gift of Christmas, with the last line of each verse paying homage to the icy white stuff:
I’ve been wanting to tell you for so long,
Thankyou for being with me.
The drifting snow says to us
Hold the one you love closer to your breast.”
10. “A “”Merry Christmas”” Sometime” by B’z いつかのメリークリスマス
This song B’z is probably the biggest Christmas song of the 90s. In a yearly “Songs I Want to Listen to at Christmas” questionnaire put together by the TBS broadcasting company, this song took first place for nine consecutive years from 1997 to 2006. That’s quite an effort. It didn’t end there, and went on to get second place in 2007 and in 2011.
It’s also a popular karaoke song, with the tune once again in number one spot in a study of most sung Christmas songs in karaoke establishments.
It felt like we could just keep on holding hands for ever
And all was glistening as we rushed headlong to a dream of better
Of a day when joy and sorrow
Understood each other on the morrow
And the love and smiles between us
Fade into a Merry Christmas
And, with that, it’s time for me to fade into Christmas too.