Saturday 23 December 2017

Christmas in Japan: Romance, Chicken, Cakes, and Gifts

Christmas in Japan is, on the surface, not a great deal different to that back in England in terms of the gaudy decorations, beautiful illuminations, and non-stop Christmas music in the shops. Many Japanese will put up a Christmas tree and/or lights, a wreath, and Santa ornaments. The main difference though is that December 25th is just an ordinary working day for most - the big holiday and family gathering time is New Year (Shōgatsu =正月). If anything, Christmas itself is more a time for couples; Christmas Eve (simply called ivu/ibu =イヴ in Japanese) especially has a strong romantic image - apparently created by the young women's magazine an-an - and making a reservation at a restaurant is next to impossible.

In terms of food, Christmas in Japan means two things: chicken (not turkey!) and cakes. The former is chiefly due to a smart advertising campaign by Kentucky in the 1970s whose slogan was "Kentucky for Christmas" (クリスマスにはケンタッキー). Today, you need to book weeks in advance if you don't want to spend hours queueing for fried chicken. Christmas is also the only time you can typically buy a whole roast chicken in the supermarket - though most people plump for the legs or thigh (pictured).

As for cakes, Christmas cake is not the rich brandy-soaked fruit cake with marzipan and icing popular in the UK but a sponge cake usually with chocolate or stawberries. The basement of department stores - where the grocery section is found - is usually unbelievably busy with crowds jostling to secure the best cake before they sell out (which they never do).

In one word Christmas in Japan is quintessentially about consumerism - your wallet can become light very quickly just buying a few Christmas goodies (perhaps Japan is not so different after all!). Gift-giving is big in Japan and year-end gifts known as oseibo (お歳暮) - for those you became indebted to (osewa ni natta hito) during the year - are big business. I spotted this "Merry Christmas" gift corner in a local department store today including \10,000 (£66/$88) melons, \5,000 dried persimmons (hoshigaki), and \4,000 strawberries (pictured). One of the nice things about gift-giving in Japan though is the way gifts are opened very carefully and slowly, taking care to keep the gift-wrapping neat and intact, and thereby showing respect to the gift-giver. Much respect too to all those who have followed the blog since it was born back in March: a big merī kurisumasu (メリークリスマス) - usually abbreviated to merikuri - to you all!