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Christmas Food in Japan: A Guide to Traditional and Modern Japanese Holiday Dishes

Christmas Food in Japan: A Guide to Traditional and Modern Japanese Holiday Dishes

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Are you curious about what Christmas food looks like in Japan? While the holiday is not traditionally celebrated in Japan, it has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many people enjoying festive meals with family and friends. However, Christmas Food in Japan is quite different from what you might see in Western countries.

Christmas Food in Japan Cover Image

One of the most popular Christmas foods in Japan is fried chicken. Because turkey is not commonly found in Japan, fried chicken has become a staple dish during the holiday season. Many restaurants offer special limited-edition Christmas chicken menu items for eat-in or takeout.


The chicken is usually fried or roasted and may come with sides such as mashed potatoes or salad. If you’re in Japan during Christmas, you’ll likely see long lines at popular fast-food chains like KFC, which has become synonymous with Christmas in Japan.

In addition to fried chicken, there are many other traditional Japanese foods that are enjoyed during the holiday season. For example, hot pot dishes like sukiyaki or shabu-shabu are popular choices for Christmas dinner. Sushi, sashimi, and other seafood dishes are also commonly served.

And if you have a sweet tooth, you’ll love the many Christmas cakes and desserts that are available in Japan during the holiday season. From strawberry shortcake to roll cakes decorated with Santa Claus and reindeer, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

History of Christmas Food in Japan

In Japan, the celebration of Christmas is a relatively new phenomenon that only dates back to the 20th century. The holiday was initially introduced by Christian missionaries who came to Japan during the Meiji period to spread their religion. However, Christmas was not widely celebrated until after World War II when Japan was occupied by American forces.

During the post-war period, Japan was in a state of rebuilding and recovery, and Christmas became a symbol of hope, peace, and prosperity. The holiday was celebrated with enthusiasm, and many Japanese people adopted Western customs and traditions, including the practice of giving gifts, decorating trees, and enjoying special Christmas foods.

One of the most popular Christmas foods in Japan is cake, particularly the Christmas cake. The Christmas cake is a sponge cake covered in whipped cream and topped with strawberries, and it is typically eaten on Christmas Eve. The tradition of eating Christmas cake in Japan dates back to the early 20th century when Western-style bakeries began to open in Japan.

Another popular Christmas food in Japan is fried chicken. Fried chicken became a popular Christmas food in Japan in the 1970s when the fast-food chain KFC launched a marketing campaign called “Kentucky for Christmas.” The campaign was a huge success, and now it is a tradition for many Japanese families to eat KFC on Christmas Eve.

In addition to cake and fried chicken, many Japanese people also enjoy other Western-style Christmas foods, such as roast beef, ham, and turkey. However, these foods are not as widely available in Japan as they are in Western countries, and they can be quite expensive.

Overall, the history of Christmas food in Japan is a fascinating reflection of the country’s unique cultural blend of East and West. Today, Christmas is a beloved holiday in Japan, and it is celebrated with joy, enthusiasm, and delicious food.

Traditional Christmas Foods

When it comes to Christmas in Japan, there are a few traditional foods that are commonly enjoyed. Here are some of the most popular:

Fried Chicken

Fried chicken is a staple of the Japanese Christmas dinner. It is so popular that many people even pre-order their KFC Christmas dinner weeks in advance. Other restaurants and convenience stores also sell fried chicken during the holiday season.

Christmas Cake

Christmas cake is another popular Japanese Christmas tradition. It is typically a sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberries. Many families will enjoy a slice of Christmas cake on Christmas Eve.

Pizza

While pizza has nothing to do with Christmas, it has become a staple of Japanese Christmas party food. Many pizza places offer special Christmas-themed pizzas during the holiday season.

Hot Saké

Hot saké is a traditional wintertime drink in Japan and is often enjoyed during Christmas celebrations. The heating of the saké masks the flavor of low-quality liquor, so it is okay not to use the best of the best when observing this tradition.

Yule Log

The Yule log is a traditional Christmas dessert in many parts of the world, and Japan is no exception. The Japanese version is typically a chocolate sponge cake rolled with whipped cream and decorated to look like a log.

Overall, these traditional Christmas foods in Japan are a unique and delicious way to celebrate the holiday season.

Christmas Foods in Japan yule log

KFC and Christmas

In Japan, Christmas is not a national holiday and is not celebrated as a religious event. However, it is still a popular occasion to exchange gifts, decorate homes and spend time with loved ones. One of the most unique and unusual Christmas traditions in Japan is the consumption of KFC.

The tradition of eating KFC on Christmas started in the 1970s, when the fast-food chain launched a marketing campaign called “Kentucky for Christmas.” The campaign was so successful that it has become a cultural phenomenon in Japan, with people even placing their orders months in advance to avoid the long lines on Christmas day.

On Christmas Eve, KFC restaurants in Japan are packed with customers who have pre-ordered their “party barrels” of fried chicken, complete with sides like salad and cake. The “party barrel” has become a symbol of Christmas in Japan, and KFC even offers special Christmas-themed packaging for the occasion.

While KFC’s popularity on Christmas in Japan may seem strange to outsiders, it is a testament to the power of effective marketing and the ability of a brand to become ingrained in a culture. In fact, KFC’s success in Japan has inspired other fast-food chains to try and replicate its Christmas success, with some offering their own special holiday menus.

So, if you find yourself in Japan during the holiday season, don’t be surprised to see people lining up outside KFC restaurants with their “party barrels” in hand. It may not be a traditional Christmas meal, but it is a unique and unforgettable experience that is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Christmas Food in Japan KFC

Christmas Cake

In Japan, Christmas cake is a popular dessert that is enjoyed during the holiday season. It is a sponge cake that is layered with fresh whipped cream and sliced strawberries, also known as strawberry shortcake. The cake is topped with more whipped cream and decorated with strawberries, chocolates, or other seasonal fruits.

Traditionally, the cake is round and decorated with a Christmas theme, such as Santa Claus or reindeer. However, in recent years, there has been a trend towards more elegant and sophisticated designs, such as cakes decorated with gold leaf or intricate sugar art.

The cost of a Christmas cake in Japan can vary depending on the size and design. A simple cake can cost around 2,000 yen ($18 USD), while a more elaborate cake can cost upwards of 10,000 yen ($90 USD).

Many Japanese families enjoy Christmas cake on Christmas Eve, which is considered the most romantic night of the year in Japan. It is also common to give Christmas cakes as gifts to friends, family, and colleagues.

If you’re visiting Japan during the holiday season, be sure to try a slice of Christmas cake. It’s a delicious and festive way to experience Japanese culture during this special time of year.

Christmas Foods in Japan Christmas Cake

Other Popular Christmas Foods

Aside from fried or roast chicken, there are a few other popular Christmas foods in Japan that you might want to try.

Christmas Cake

Christmas cake is a must-have dessert during the holiday season in Japan. These cakes are typically sponge cakes layered with whipped cream and decorated with strawberries and other fruits. You can find them at most bakeries and even convenience stores.

Pizza

Pizza may not be the first food that comes to mind when you think of Christmas, but in Japan, it’s a popular choice for Christmas dinner. Many pizza places offer special Christmas-themed pizzas that are topped with things like roast beef, potatoes, and even fried chicken.

Beef Dishes

While chicken is the most popular meat for Christmas in Japan, beef dishes are also quite popular. Many restaurants offer special Christmas beef dishes that are often served with a side of vegetables and potatoes.

Salad

Salad may not seem like a particularly festive food, but in Japan, it’s often served as a side dish during Christmas dinner. These salads are typically made with seasonal vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, and tomatoes and dressed with a light vinaigrette.

Sushi

If you’re looking for something a little different for your Christmas dinner, why not try sushi? Many sushi restaurants offer special Christmas-themed sushi rolls that are decorated with things like red and green tobiko (flying fish roe) and even tiny Christmas trees made out of cucumber slices.

Overall, there are plenty of delicious and unique Christmas foods to try in Japan. Whether you’re in the mood for something traditional like fried chicken or something a little more unconventional like Christmas-themed sushi, you’re sure to find something that will satisfy your taste buds.

Christmas Foods in Japan sushi

Christmas Food Market in Japan

If you’re looking to experience the festive food culture in Japan during Christmas, then visiting one of the many Christmas food markets is a must. These markets offer a unique opportunity to sample traditional Japanese Christmas foods and drinks, as well as international cuisine.

Here are some of the most popular Christmas food markets in Japan:

Tokyo Christmas Market in Hibiya Park

The Tokyo Christmas Market in Hibiya Park is one of the largest Christmas markets in Japan. It features over 50 vendors selling a variety of food, drinks, and gifts. You can find traditional German sausages, hot wine, and gingerbread, as well as Japanese-style Christmas cakes, fried chicken, and sake. The market is open from late November to late December and attracts thousands of visitors each year.

Osaka German Christmas Market

The Osaka German Christmas Market is another popular Christmas market in Japan. It is modeled after traditional German Christmas markets and features over 40 vendors selling German food, drinks, and crafts. You can find sausages, pretzels, mulled wine, and beer, as well as Japanese-style Christmas cakes and fried chicken. The market is open from early December to late December and is located in the heart of Osaka.

Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse Christmas Market

The Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse Christmas Market is located in a historic brick warehouse and features over 100 vendors selling a variety of food, drinks, and gifts. You can find traditional German sausages, hot wine, and gingerbread, as well as Japanese-style Christmas cakes, fried chicken, and sake. The market is open from late November to late December and offers a unique atmosphere with live music and decorations.

Kyoto Christmas Market

The Kyoto Christmas Market is a smaller market located in the historic city of Kyoto. It features over 20 vendors selling a variety of food, drinks, and gifts. You can find German sausages, hot wine, and gingerbread, as well as Japanese-style Christmas cakes and fried chicken. The market is open from mid-December to late December and offers a cozy and intimate atmosphere.

Overall, visiting a Christmas food market in Japan is a great way to experience the unique and diverse food culture during the festive season. Whether you’re looking for traditional Japanese Christmas foods or international cuisine, these markets offer something for everyone.

Impact on Japanese Culture

Christmas has become a significant cultural event in Japan, despite being a relatively new holiday. The holiday’s commercialization has led to the creation of unique traditions and customs that have become a part of Japanese culture.

One of the most notable impacts of Christmas in Japan is the widespread popularity of Christmas cakes, which are typically sponge cakes covered in whipped cream and decorated with strawberries. The tradition of eating Christmas cakes originated in the 1920s, and it has become a widespread custom in Japan. Nowadays, it is common for families to purchase Christmas cakes from bakeries or department stores as part of their holiday celebrations.

Another impact of Christmas on Japanese culture is the widespread adoption of Christmas illuminations or light displays. Many cities and towns in Japan will decorate their streets and buildings with elaborate light displays during the holiday season. This tradition has become a popular tourist attraction, with millions of visitors coming to Japan to see the stunning displays.

The commercialization of Christmas in Japan has also led to the rise of unique gift-giving customs. For example, it is common for people to exchange gifts with their coworkers or friends, and many companies will give their employees a bonus or gift as part of their end-of-year celebrations.

Overall, the impact of Christmas on Japanese culture has been significant, with the holiday becoming an important part of the country’s cultural landscape. While some traditions may differ from those in other parts of the world, the spirit of the holiday remains the same, bringing people together to celebrate and enjoy the festive season.

Christmas Food in Japan

Comparison with Western Christmas Foods

When it comes to Christmas, Western countries have their own traditional foods. These foods vary from country to country, but there are some common dishes that are usually found on the Christmas dinner table. Here’s a quick comparison of Japanese Christmas food and Western Christmas food.

Main Course

In Western countries, the main course for Christmas dinner is usually a roasted turkey, ham, or beef. In Japan, however, the main course is fried chicken, specifically KFC. This is because of a marketing campaign that KFC launched in the 1970s, which was so successful that it became a tradition in Japan.

Side Dishes

In the West, side dishes for Christmas dinner usually include roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and gravy. In Japan, side dishes are usually Western-style, such as salads, pasta, and pizza. However, some traditional Japanese dishes like sushi, tempura, and yakitori are also served.

Desserts

In Western countries, desserts for Christmas usually include fruitcake, pies, and cookies. In Japan, Christmas cakes are the most popular dessert. These cakes are usually sponge cakes with whipped cream and strawberries on top. They are often decorated with Christmas decorations like Santa Claus and snowmen.

Drinks

In Western countries, eggnog, mulled wine, and hot cocoa are popular Christmas drinks. In Japan, hot wine and hot chocolate are popular, but so are soft drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

Overall, while there are some similarities between Japanese and Western Christmas foods, there are also some significant differences. Japanese Christmas food tends to be more Western-style than traditional Japanese, and the main course is fried chicken instead of roasted meat. However, the Japanese have embraced their unique Christmas traditions and have made them their own.

Christmas Food in Japan Pepsi

Final Thoughts

In Japan, Christmas is a unique and special holiday that is celebrated in its own distinct way. From KFC chicken to traditional osechi ryori dishes, Christmas food in Japan is a fascinating blend of Western and Japanese cuisine.

During the holiday season, many Japanese families gather together to enjoy a festive meal that includes a variety of dishes, such as grilled eel, oden, and zoni soup. These dishes are not only delicious but also rich in cultural significance, representing the spirit of the holiday and the values of family and togetherness.

While Christmas in Japan may not be a Christian holiday, it is still a time of joy and celebration that is enjoyed by people of all ages and backgrounds. Whether you’re a local or a visitor, experiencing the unique flavors and traditions of Japanese Christmas food is a must-try experience that will leave you with lasting memories.

In conclusion, Japanese Christmas food is a fascinating blend of traditional and modern cuisine that reflects the unique culture and customs of Japan. Whether you’re savoring a delicious piece of fried chicken or enjoying a bowl of zoni soup, the flavors and traditions of Japanese Christmas food are sure to delight and inspire you. So why not try something new this holiday season and discover the magic of Japanese Christmas food for yourself?

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some traditional Japanese holiday dishes?

There are several traditional Japanese holiday dishes, including:

  • Osechi Ryori: a collection of traditional dishes that are typically served in a special box called “jubako”. The dishes include kuromame (sweet black soybeans), kamaboko (fish cake), and datemaki (sweet rolled omelet).
  • Soba: a type of Japanese noodle that is typically eaten on New Year’s Eve. It is believed to bring good luck and longevity.
  • Nabe: a hot pot dish that is popular during the winter months. It typically includes vegetables, meat, and seafood.

What is the history behind KFC being eaten on Christmas in Japan?

Eating KFC on Christmas in Japan has become a popular tradition since the 1970s. It is believed that the tradition started when a group of foreigners in Japan could not find turkey for Christmas dinner and instead opted for KFC. The company then began marketing their fried chicken as a Christmas meal, and the tradition caught on.

What are some unique Christmas food items found in Japan?

Some unique Christmas food items found in Japan include:

  • Christmas Cake: a sponge cake covered in whipped cream and decorated with strawberries. It is typically eaten on Christmas Eve.
  • Fried Chicken: as previously mentioned, KFC is a popular Christmas meal in Japan. However, other restaurants and shops also offer special Christmas fried chicken meals.
  • Pizza: many pizza shops in Japan offer special Christmas-themed pizzas, such as ones topped with fried chicken and cranberry sauce.

What do people in Japan typically drink during Christmas?

People in Japan typically drink wine, champagne, and beer during Christmas. Hot drinks such as hot cocoa and mulled wine are also popular during the winter months.

How do Japanese people celebrate Christmas?

Japanese people typically celebrate Christmas as a romantic holiday for couples, rather than a religious holiday. It is common for couples to exchange gifts and go on dates. Christmas decorations such as lights and trees are also popular.

What are some interesting facts about Christmas in Japan?

Some interesting facts about Christmas in Japan include:

  • Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, but it is still widely celebrated.
  • Christmas Eve is considered a romantic holiday, similar to Valentine’s Day in Western countries.
  • In addition to KFC, strawberry shortcake is also a popular Christmas dessert in Japan.
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