A country close to my heart, Japan is probably the last place you’d think of when it comes to Christmas. And by rights too, Japan is a majority Buddhist and Shinto nation, so Christmas day isn’t an official holiday in the country where you’ll find shops and schools open on December 25th. Many children believe Christmas day to be the celebration of the birth of “Santa-san”, so we’re miles away from the Nativity story here.
Christmas eve in Japan
Christmas eve is of more significance in Japan than Christmas day. On Christmas eve couples enjoy romantic walks admiring the Christmas lights and share gifts and cards with each other over a fancy dinner in a high-end restaurant. Back in the day, single Japanese ladies over 25 years old were likened to an unsold Christmas cake past its use-by date. Charming.
Christmas food in Japan
Japanese Christmas cake is a light white sponge cake topped with whipped cream, strawberries and typically cute ornaments of Santa-san. You can tell Christmas is coming by the influx of leaflets from posh bakeries offering beautiful Christmas cakes to order. For the first few days in Tokyo my husband and I couldn’t quite figure out what to eat, but the cakes were so delicious – super light and fluffy, surely this can’t be bad for you?
By far the most bonkers Christmas tradition in Japan is the interpretation of the Christmas dinner. Meals are pre-ordered months in advance or 2-hour queues form around the block on Christmas eve awaiting the delicious… KFC. Yes. What? A combination of clever marketing and the similarity between Colonel Sanders and Santa-san himself means KFC has become synonymous with Christmas since the mid-1970s [read more about this].
Christmas decorations in Japan
Christmas trees inside people’s homes are rare, but typically-Japanese cutesy Christmas ornaments and toys are popular like these super cute Rilakkuma plushies I bought in Kiddy Land (I know right) in Tokyo.
The shopping malls and city streets are decked out with awesome light displays. In Shinjuku, Roppongi Hills and around Tokyo Dome You’ll find fun lighting installations that make use of colour-changing LEDs and projectors, plus a giant “memorial tree” stands by the riverside near Palette Town the-part-shopping mall-part-amusement-park (of course) in Odaiba.
It’s been too long since I enjoyed some cloud-like Japanese sponge cake. I feel a baking weekend coming on…