The Fourth Day of Christmas in Japan

…four calling birds…

Christmas songs are found in almost all western countries. Even across different languages, any country that has a strong Judeo-Christian base has Christmas songs. There are different versions and sometimes different words, but the meanings are all still relatively similar. Then there’s this:

ジングル ベル ジングル ベル
スズ が なる
今日 は 楽しい クリスマス HEY!

The first line reads: “Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell” and the second line states the sound “suzu” that the bells are making. Line three tells us that today is fun Christmas. Hey.

Changing the words of songs to match different cultures is nothing new and isn’t really that surprising; I’m sure you can find examples in all countries that celebrate Christmas where the words have been changed as drastically, if not more so, than those written here. However, as Japan has never been a Christian country (I’m speaking about Christian countries in the historical sense, not the political.) I’m not sure why Christmas songs are so prevalent and why they’ve been changed so much.

In the above, why aren’t horses mentioned? Is it because Japan has never really used horses for transportation or because whomever first translated it thought “sleigh” just wouldn’t work with the Japanese syllabary?

But for whatever reason, this time of year finds Christmas themed music everywhere in Japan, often in a radically different form from what I grew up with. Recent years have even seen native Japanese songs celebrating Christmas. Usually from aging pop stars trying to rake in a bit of cash with a sappy ballad, but there are a few from current teen pop stars and cartoons.

(As a side note, Auld Lang Syne is often used as the “goodnight, the store is closing” music at many of the department stores, all year round, causing many a startled glance upwards from visiting tourists.)

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