Christmas in Japan
Christmas in Japan is an interesting mix between Western traditions and local ones. So what is the Christmas tradition in Japan?
So when is Japanese Christmas
Japanese Christmas is celebrated around December 24th. It’s not a public holiday, so people celebrate in the evening of the 24th after work and school.
Christmas is also a short date and friend’s time
Christmas is considered a date night between couples and involves going out to eat and visiting a romantic winter light display. Friends often celebrate together as well and families with children are glad to take the evening at home eating Western-style food.
The 25th of December is business as usual and as we know often falls on a weekday. Consequently, these Christmas Eve get-togethers are usually done by about 9 or 10 pm so everyone can get ready to go to the office or school the next day. It’s common for Christmas displays to be removed on the morning of the 25th, so people can swap them out for New Year decorations.
Though Christmas has less significance in Japan than the New Year, it does have its own take on tradition. The focus for many is the food.
Christmas trees line either side of a pathway. A lit-up sign that says “Christmas Market” is hung up by string between them and in the distance, a large lit-up Christmas tree can be seen. The pathway is filled with people taking pictures of the market at Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse Christmas Market.
What do the Japanese eat on Christmas?
Fried chicken or roast chicken is the short answer.
Turkey is hard to find in Japan, so the staple dish for Christmas here is chicken. Many restaurants offer special limited-edition Christmas chicken menu items for in-house dining or takeout. Some of these options are fried or roasted chicken, with sides such as potato salad like Germans would use at Christmas time.
Kentucky Fried Chicken has a roaring business during Christmas
Truthfully, one of the most popular places to get your fill of Christmas Eve chicken is at KFC. The whole tradition might never have taken off in Japan were it not for KFC’s long history of offering a fancy Thanksgiving-like meal on Christmas Eve. But with chicken.
Popularized in Japan for Christmas and a favorite of the locals, KFC is actually an American institution that began in Kentucky. In fact, we can trace its roots back to when one man ordered so much chicken that he needed to explain his circumstances to the store clerk because there was no turkey available.
On Christmas Eve in say Tokyo, busy KFCs have long lines that wrap around the block. Stores stock up on chicken for the evening to ensure they can satisfy customers. They recommend ordering in advance through their website so that you can receive your order with a special express queue at pickup.
The KFC “Party Barrel” as an example offers eight pieces of original recipe chicken, a special shrimp gratin and a triple berry tiramisu for the price of ca. 4,100 yen.
KFC recently released a special Christmas “Party Barrel” pack, which includes eight pieces of original recipe chicken, a special shrimp gratin and a triple berry tiramisu. The chicken comes in a festive-looking bucket along with paper party plates.
Pizza Hut, Pizza-La, and Domino’s followed suit
As KFC dominated headlines during Japan’s Christmas celebrations, it was only a matter of time before other fast-food outlets decided to capitalize on the holiday and increase their popularity.
Pizza is an integral part of most Christmas dinner festivities in Japan, but the country’s pizza industry has really shined recently. Pizza has always been associated with partying in Japan and so it’s perfect for any gathering or celebration.
Pizza Hut, Pizza-La, and Domino’s have specials for Christmas and winter with toppings that are supposed to symbolize the spirit of the season. For instance, roast chicken and vegetables can go on some pizzas, while others might have roast beef or fancier toppings such as camembert cheese and truffles. The trend is for a “quattro” pizza this time of year, with four different flavors and types of toppings per pizza slice.
The unusual preference for chicken over Christmas has more stakeholders: Pizza Hut understands this ver well. In the past, they’ve used it to their advantage by teaming up with KFC to offer a special combo pack of Pizza Hut’s pizza and KFC chicken. It’s hard to say how they coordinated those orders, but it was probably a smart move!
You expect something exotic when we deal with Japan. Here it is: Domino’s Japan made headlines on Christmas Eve, 2016, when they attempted to train reindeer to deliver their Christmas orders via a GPS tracking app and self-driving sleighs. Needless to say that the reindeer refused to play ball; they failed to stick to the intended routes and the pizzas were upended. The planners embraced defeat by dressing up the delivery scooters with reindeer garb instead–which got mixed reviews from involved locals.
One thing for sure about pizza for Christmas is that it has become extremely popular. Many pizza outlets are struggling to keep up with orders on Christmas Eve. You may be surprised to learn, however, that it costs more than US$50 in Japan. Expect one of these large festive pizzas to set you back at least US$50.
What is the most popular Christmas food in Japan?
It’s known as “Christmas Cake” in Japanese and is essentially a strawberry shortcake. You can find this cake at just about any cake shop or Depachika, but it will be dressed up for the holiday season.
And now you may rightfully ask, what on earth is a Depachika: Depachika are markets located on the basement level of department stores. These popular shopping destinations offer a wide variety of ready-to-eat foods like side dishes, bentō, and sweets, along with fresh ingredients such as meat and fish.
It’s similar to a sponge cake but with a more intense, richer flavor. It’s often round and has cream and strawberries, although some variations might have other decorations like a holly or confectionary shaped like Santa.
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