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Spending Christmas Eve Alone? Japanese Has a Word for That

Christmas tree, Marunouchi, Tokyo. Image: François Rejeté / Wikimedia Commons. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

In Japan, Christmas Eve is supposed to be the most romantic night of the year.

Traditionally December 24 has been the big date night in Japan, where couples pair up and spend a special evening together before returning to work and the boring office routine on December 25; Christmas Day is not typically celebrated in Japan.

In recent years, however, not only has Japan's birth rate fallen, but so has the number of people getting married or even dating.

This societal change is now starting to affect Christmas Eve so much that a new word has been coined: kuribotchi.

At work a bunch of the junior staff were happily discussing their kuribotchi plans. “And just what the heck is kuribotchi?” I asked with a laugh. There was an awkward silence. And then I got what they were talking about.

A neologism created by combing the words “Christmas” and “hitori-botchi” (all by oneself), kuribotchi describes the condition of spending Christmas Eve alone.

This news report from December 2013 asks the big question: what are your plans for Christmas Eve?

The response?

“I'll be kuribotchi.”

In November 2014, online restaurant reservation service OpenTable surveyed nearly 1,800 people in the Tokyo Metropolitan area between the ages of 20 and 30. According to the survey, nearly 60 percent of respondents said they were not in a long-term relationship or even dating. 

Some restaurants and hotels have launched kuribotchi specials to cater to solo diners and Christmas Eve celebrants, capitalizing on the fact that an equal number of singletons planned on either staying at home or eating out on Christmas Eve (respondents could select more than one activity):

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“How twentysomethings intend to spend Christmas.” Image source: Nikkei Woman.

Significant for restaurant owners, however, is that about 43 percent of the 20-something survey respondents said they would spend no more than US$100 celebrating Christmas Eve, a striking contrast to the booming bubble years 25 years and a generation ago when the sky was the limit in terms of how much to spend on a big date night.

More and more Japanese 20-somethings are starting to embrace a solitary lifestyle:

Once you decide to eat Korean BBQ by yourself, you realize there's no going back to an active social life.

The writer here uses the term リア充, or “ria ju,” a Japanese Internet term that roughly corresponds to IRL (in real life).

In this context, “ria ju people” have active, vibrant social lives with plenty of friends. In contrast, kuribotchis represent another trend in Japanese culture, where people interact with each other mainly online through a computer interface.

In real life, Japanese society is still adjusting to the solitary ways of singletons:

When I asked for a “single” karaoke room, they brought me to a space big enough for 25 people.

Others are still figuring out how to prepare winter dishes that would traditionally have been eaten with others, like hotpot:

There is something that is just not right here. The presentation here is totally awful… it's lacking something. On the other hand, I like being holed up here with my hotpot for one.

A nascent meme on Twitter is people taking a solitary approach to playing board games meant for more than one player:

Playin’ the Game of Life all by myself.

Ready, set, go: playing the Game of Life with one player.

I thought I would try the Game of Life with one player.

 For some, however, the end of November and the beginning of December mark the start of a grim countdown:

We are sad to report that only 24 days remain until we spend Christmas Eve all alone. We are sad to report that only 24 days remain until we spend Christmas Eve all alone. We are sad to report that only 24 days remain until we spend Christmas Eve all alone. [repeats five more times]

Other kuribotchis take solace from Snoopy, who also may share their plight on Christmas Eve:

He looks like he's going to be spending Christmas by himself too.

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