Bavarian Christmas markets are a hallmark of the Christmas season in Tokyo. Less than 1% of the Japanese population identifies as Christian, but a huge percentage of Japanese people celebrate “Christmas” as a secular holiday, and even those who don’t seem to enjoy the lights, tastes, and general joy of the holiday season.
Given the Japanese love for seasonal decorations, special food, and gifts, the popularity of Christmas really comes as no surprise. And the Japanese take on Christmas markets is so much fun that I look forward to seeing them every year.
The Christmas Market at Yokohama’s Akarenga (Red Brick Warehouse) is one of the largest in Tokyo–but for various reasons I’d never managed to get there until this year.
The Red Brick Warehouses date to the early 1900s, and are a landmark on the Yokohama waterfront–they were originally constructed to serve as customs houses, but now are filled with restaurants and shops. The Christmas market sits in the open space between the long, brick buildings, and features a massive Christmas tree near the water.
There’s also an open-air ice skating rink, which goes up at the same time as the Christmas market, but remains in place through January. The panel above is one of the walls surrounding the rink.
In the past, the markets were free and available to everyone throughout their opening hours; they were canceled entirely in 2021, due to COVID-19, and although the situation in Japan has improved dramatically, and the markets are back this year, many of them–including Yokohama–implemented ticketing and limited admissions during certain hours. (In Yokohama, tickets were required on Friday-Saturday-Sunday from mid-December through Christmas Day.) The tickets were cheap–only 300JPY (about $2.80 US at current exchange rates) so the ticketing was mainly about controlling crowds. (Irony: the Yokohama market was actually the most crowded place I’ve been all season–so I’m not sure the ticketing thing is working as intended.)
Like most Bavarian Christmas markets in Japan, the Yokohama Christmas Market featured a variety of hut-style shops, some selling Christmas-themed gifts and decorations and the others (the majority) selling different kinds of Bavarian and “Japanese interpretations of Bavarian” holiday food and drinks. Each shop was adorned with a variety of Christmas-adjacent figures and decorations. Case in point: Skiing Santa, Toy Soldier, and the ever-popular Giant Christmas Strawberry. (A note on this: strawberries are a winter crop in Japan, and often featured on Christmas cakes, so if I had to guess, that’s where the connection lies.)
In the background of the photo above, you can see the red brick warehouse.
“Taste good” indeed! The main reason most people go to the Christmas markets–aside from seeing the lights and decorations–is to eat.
Also, you can learn a lot about Christmas. For example, the fact that Santa needs to watch out for attacking sheep.
I chose to go in the 4-7pm ticket slot, so I could watch the sunset and see the lights come on. I was not disappointed–and I even got a moonrise into the bargain!
The Lindt shop is always among the most crowded at the Christmas market. It sells both chocolates (to go) and Lindt hot cocoa (to drink there), and there’s always a major line. Lindt also puts up one of the nicest displays. They decorate both the hut and the area around it, and the decorations differ from market to market–the truffle Ferris wheel here is paying homage to the enormous one nearby, in Yokohama’s Minatomirai entertainment area.
Japanese Christmas markets always include a traditional creche. The one in Yokohama sits directly beside the massive tree. This is one of the most popular spots for people to take photos–both selfies and with the help of others–at this particular market.
Whatever you celebrate (or don’t), I wish you and yours a bright and merry holiday season, and a happy and healthy year to come.