As the slate grey skies and chilly temperatures of mid December threaten to overwhelm, good food, warm drinks, and bright lights are there to keep us going. Christmas has arrived, and with it comes the German Christmas Markets. The shopping and eating pleasures of the traditional German Kristkindlmarkt have arrived in Japan.
Christmas markets have been a major part of the holiday season in German-speaking Europe for centuries. One of the most famous Kirstkindlmarkts in the world is held in Munich, and began in 1310. The markets set up in the center of town, and sell traditional Christmas ornaments, nutcrackers, decorations, bratwurst, cookies, glühwein (hot spiced wine) and of course good German beer. I had visited Munich for Christmas back in 2004 and quickly decided that this was the best way to celebrate Christmas. Luckily for me, recently these German-style markets have been gaining in popularity here in Japan.
While the markets are not quite as popular as the many many Oktoberfests that are held all over Japan, they are becoming bigger and more prevalent. Sapporo has been holding a German Christmas market since 2002 in celebration of its sister city relationship with Munich. The Sapporo market has lots of shops and food, and even some local craft beer in the form of an Otaru Beer stall. Otaru Beer is very well respected Japanese brewer of traditional German styles.
Tokyo itself has a pair of markets. The first is in the north-western part of the city in the Solamachi shopping mall that is at the base of the massive Tokyo Sky-Tree. The other market is in the Roppongi Hills shopping/ art museum/ business space in the Roppongi neighborhood. I went to both of these last year, and enjoyed them but found them pretty emblematic of cultural events in Tokyo. They were fun, overcrowded, and very expensive. That said you often have to take what you can get when celebrating holidays in a more Western style. I much prefer a bratwurst and a nice cup of hot wine to a big bucket of KFC. It is worth the expense for the opportunity to experience a little slice of German culture right in the heart of the city.
Yokohama hosts the Red Brick Warehouse Christmas Market. The Red Brick Warehouse (aka the Akarenga) is a lovely shopping and event space in the rejuvenated Yokohama waterfront area. In addition to the market, there are Christmas themed events all December long including a skating rink and evening fireworks.
A bit further south Nagoya is holding the Nagoya Christmas Market in Hisaya Odori Park, right in the center of town near the Nagoya TV Tower. There is an Erdinger booth selling beer and glühwein as well as booths with more glühwein, stollen, mussels, sausages, and crispy schnitzel.
Kansai is not to be left out, with a huge Christmas Tree and a Market at the Umeda Sky Building, a huge skyscraper near Osaka station. This one has all the food and shopping stalls along with an antique merry-go-round and appearances from Saint Nick.
Last on the list is Fukuoka, which has a Christmas Market and illumination in front of the JR Hakata station. They have sixteen booths (including two for glühwein and one for beer) , a music stage, and even a stamp rally.
While none of these markets will come anywhere close to the massive celebrations in Munich, Nuremberg or Salzburg, they each bring a bit of European Christmas cheer into Japan. Merry Christmas, and enjoy the gift of good food, good drinks, and good friends.