Christmas is often called the Valentine’s Day of Japan, and like any couples’ holiday, it all boils down to a competition of romantic intentions between couples. So, if you want to keep your girlfriend/boyfriend happy, it is imperative that you come up with the unique plan to out-romance all the other couples. Luckily for us girls out there, the bulk of the planning falls on our men. However, regardless of your gender, you should take part in planning your romantic Japanese Christmas.
The problem with romantic things is that they tend to cost money. Some of the most popular Christmas destinations are fancy restaurants, hotels, theaters, and live shows as well as the old classics like Disney and USJ. However, like the names suggest, these are costly and often book weeks or months in advance.
In order to preserve your money and your relationship, you need to think outside the box, so here is a great Christmas date idea that costs 2,805 yen—under 30 US$.
1. Start with a romantic rowboat trip
Inokashira Park is perfect for a romantic boat ride, and if you head over at 1pm you’ll catch the warmest part of the day and can enjoy a stroll before you set sail. Not to mention that in late afternoon it looks something like this:
Take the Chuo line towards Tachikawa and get off at Kichijoji Station. Kichijoji is fairly close to the center of Tokyo, so it is not a difficult train ride. Once you get off, it is less than a five-minute walk toward Inokashira Park (井の頭公園), and any station attendant can easily point you in the right direction. The row boats close at exactly 4:00pm, so you’re going to want to get on the boat by around 3:00pm to make sure you get your full hour’s worth.
Since this is Christmas, there might be a line. Make sure you arrive with plenty of time. The park has several other beautiful components; it is romantic to just walk around, to sit on the benches, or to watch all the other couples on the boats. This is also a nice chance to decide which of the boats you would like to pick—they have swan boats, paddle boats and row boats. While the rowboat is traditionally more romantic, keeping you face to face, swan boats can be a bit more relaxed if you don’t know each other so well yet, sort of like how it’s easy to talk to someone in a car. Keep an eye out for the charts by the entrance which show types and prices.
Once on board, watch out for other couples and wandering ducks; it is very easy to crash the boats and the ducks are always on the lookout for free food. If prone to sea-sickness or just not a water person, you might prefer a romantic stroll through the Christmas markets in Tokyo instead.
Pocket-heat warmers: Comes in packs of four; you can buy at any 100 Yen Lawson’s or 7-11 shop. While holding hands is cute, these really get to work and mean you can do some rowing as well. 1 packs: 105 yen
Renting a rowboat: 600 yen for one hour.
Total spent so far: 705 yen
2. Take your date to KFC
In any other country, taking your date to a fast food chain on the most romantic day of the year would be some sort of horrific insult. However, in the wonderful world of Japan, thanks to some creative marketing strategies when Christmas was still a new Japanese holiday, a majority of the population of Japan believe that Westerners (especially Americans) celebrate Christmas with a large pile of KFC chicken.
Luckily, KFC is also much cheaper than a regular sit-down restaurant, so us cheapos can get on board with it!
Also luckily, there is a KFC right next to Inokashira Koen and you can always call KFC ahead of time to reserve your Christmas Chicken. Phone numbers depend on the location, but the KFC in Kichijoji is 0422-70-7191
They have “Christmas sets,” ranging anywhere from 2,290 yen to 5,800 yen. There are also a number of small sides you can order, with ‘chicken tender’ being a fancier version of nuggets (4 for 800 yen), or bbq chicken piece for 600 yen—they have upped their game this year so there’s plenty to choose from whatever the budget! (But of course there are still some familiar favorites, if you like your traditional nuggets). If you want something a little more substantial though, you could check out some of these options for a Christmas dinner in Tokyo.
Let’s say you order the more festive nuggets and get a large fried to share (since it’s cuter that way).
Total spent so far: 1,805 yen
3. Christmas isn’t Christmas without the cake!
This should be the most expensive part of Christmas, cakes range anywhere from 1,000 yen to 13,000 yen.
The Christmas cake is something unique to Japan, most families (and couples) celebrate by eating a sponge cake topped by whipped cream and strawberries. Christmas is not complete without the Christmas cake and the Christmas chicken, so if you want to have the real Japanese Christmas experience, you should eat both.
For already-happy couples, you could make the cake together in the morning or make it yourself and surprise them with it, this recipe is a good place to start. Either way, you are going to be winning in romance points. If you can’t manage a homemade one, stores have plenty of lovely options, with really cute decorations. They come in plenty of sizes so you don’t have to worry about hauling a full cake about all day—and it keeps the cost down.
If you are meeting at the station in the morning, you could pack the cake with a few cool packs and put it in a locker, ready to pick up after your boat-ride.
Christmas cake (or Christmas cupcake, depending on your budget): 1,000 yen
Total cost of Christmas: 2,805 yen
4. Enjoy Christmas dinner under the illuminations
It’s romantic and it’s free. What more could you want? Kichioji Station has festive illuminations every year and you can find a bench to snuggle up and share your Christmas dinner.
The display at the station is gorgeous, with silver, blue, gold, green, and red lights snaking around trees and poles. They even have a giant Christmas tree made of lights that you can stroll around afterwards. If you like the illuminations idea but want to see some grander versions, we also have a handy list for this year’s best displays.
It may not be the Ritz, but the personal touches and quality time make this a really sweet way to spend the day, without worrying about costs.