Christians are a minority in Japan, comprising only 1% of the population. Well, actually I’d say anyone who is “serious” about their religion is a minority here.

The Japanese, in general, have a very laid back approach to it, adding and subtracting as they see fit, often participating in a mish-mash of rites from various beliefs that can be quite surprising to the outsider.

It is often said that Japanese are born Shinto, marry as Christians, and die as Buddhists. This is referring to the popularity of the “100 Day Ceremony” held at the Shinto shrine when a baby has attained that landmark, the Christian-esque chapel weddings that are popular with young couples, and the Buddhist funerals most families choose to have.

I guess you could say they like to cover their bases in Japan.

As a result, Japan often seems to have trouble understanding why the rest of the world gets so worked up about Christmas. I wouldn’t consider myself devout, by any means, but I have found myself in an uncomfortable position many times when it is expected that I should just be okay with praying at a Shinto shrine or throwing money into the collection box at a temple. Usually, I just stand respectfully by and draw as little attention to my non-praying heathen outsiderness as possible.

The kids, though, are often forced to participate.

They treat it as a kind of play. We’ve talked about it at home, that many people believe different things, but in our family we believe this way.

It is a very different situation from what I grew up with, as the daughter of a fire-and-brimstone type preacher boy Down South.

Usually, I don’t make a big deal out of it. Part of the laid back attitude of the Japanese way of thinking means you are seldom called upon to explain your beliefs. (Whew!)

I have, though, found myself in a peck full of pickles for the first time this year. Christmas is a school day.

Insert shock and horror here.

I talked to my (Japanese) mother-in-law, who was raised in a very strict Methodist household, about what she did when she was a child. Her answer was, “Why would we have to miss school since Christmas is always on a Sunday?”

Um, okay…. I guess that answers how they dealt with that.

When the kids were smaller and Daddy had to work on Christmas, we often did that, too. But now they are old enough to understand that Christmas is on the 25th, where even the Japanese calendars say in tiny, black letters:


My son is seven. I think he’s too young to make a decision about something like this, so this year, I’m calling it. He’ll stay home from school. I wrote a note to the teacher saying that he would be absent on the 25th, though I didn’t provide a reason.

And then, low and behold, my husband also decided to take the day off work! It feels like a small victory for our minority religion household, even if the majority world outside goes on as usual.

Is your family part of a minority religion where you live? How do you balance observing religious occasions with fulfilling your everyday obligations?

This is an original post to World Moms Blog from our writer in Japan and mom of two, Melanie Oda at Hamakkomommy

The image used in this post is credited to the author

Melanie Oda (Japan)

If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety. She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother. You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.

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