I’m a little late with this post considering Christmas has been and gone but since its about my favourite thing (food!) I can’t really let it slip by.
Christmas is an interesting concept in Japan. Being a country with only a tiny percentage of Christians its not really celebrated the same way it is in the west but it is certainly embraced in a commercial respect. Something that a lot of people don’t seem to realise is that Christmas isn’t a public holiday in Japan. Everyone goes to work or school as per normal and its not really celebrated as a special day. Some people choose to give gifts to loved ones and the tradition of Santa Claus has taken off a in some small ways, though not to the extent where you see him in shopping centres around the country.
On the other hand, Christmas advertising is everywhere in stores and on TV and certain Christmas traditions have been adapted in that classic Japanese way that end up becoming quite different to how they would normally be done in the west. I’m going to highlight two Japanese Christmas traditions that have always fascinated me because their origins are decidedly non-Japanese and yet they’ve become unique traditions all the same.
The traditional food for Christmas in Japan is: Fried Chicken. The origins of this are murky at best. There seem to be dozens of reasons floating around so lets avoid that and just say that at some point, someone in Japan decided eating chicken on Christmas eve was the traditional thing to do, and since ovens aren’t all that common in Japanese homes, fried chicken was the next best thing for it.
KFC Japan have run with this idea to great success and Christmas is now one of their busiest times of the year, with lines of people around the block waiting to pick up their pre-ordered chicken packs and a reported 6 billion yen in sales for the Christmas weekend of 2017 alone. Its become so much of a tradition that many other places such as MOS Burger also sell fried chicken at Christmas time. Christmas chicken is also pretty prevalent in supermarkets in both fried and pre-packaged roasted varieties. It’s become a firmly entrenched Christmas tradition in a country that doesn’t really celebrate Christmas.
Another take on a western tradition that has been modified for Christmas in Japan, is the Christmas Cake. Christmas Cake in the west is typically a dark and heavy fruit cake, something I’ve never been a huge fan of.
In Japan, the ‘cake’ in Christmas Cake has been taken somewhat literally and is typically a very light sponge cake drenched in cream and lined with festive decorations, more in line with a birthday cake. The cake is typically eaten on Christmas eve, just like the Christmas chicken. There are a variety of different cakes available in shops for Christmas but by far the most popular is the strawberry shortcake variety, topped with strawberries and whipped cream. As with most Japanese cakes, its super light, airy and utterly delicious. This is a cake I can get used to having for Christmas.
So there we have two interesting Japanese Christmas food traditions, both with obvious Western origins but adapted into Japanese culture and made somewhat unique. Given that fried chicken and sponge cake are favourites of mine, I always look forward to Christmas and an excuse to eat both guilt free.