People, by and large, can be very good at adopting certain practices of other cultures. Japan does this so well, often adding their own unique twist, that usually whatever they’ve adopted becomes part of Japan itself: radio calisthenics from the US, kanji from China, tempura from Portuguese missionaries…
Of course, tempura wasn’t the only thing these missionaries introduced (although I’m sure glad they did, because damn, tempura done properly is so good). They also brought over the Christian religion and, not surprisingly, Christmas – which the Japanese have taken to with great gusto.
The Most Wonderful Time of The Year… Unless You’re Single
These days, come December in Japan, Christmas decorations crop up just about everywhere, hymns are constantly on the airwaves, and there’s probably a Godzilla Christmas tree at the local shopping mall. In other words: Christmas is huge in Japan, although in a strictly secular sense.
In any case, free to interpret Christmas any way they like, the Japanese have decided that it is… another Valentine’s day, basically. It’s a day for romantic dinners at expensive restaurants and letting the food get cold because couples are too busy gazing meaningfully into each others’ eyes. You know, that sort of stuff.
This Christmas-as-Valentine’s deal is not a bad idea, I guess, since Valentine’s has pretty much lost all romance in Japan: there’s hardly anything romantic about “obligatory chocolates” (義理チョコ, giri-choko) after all. So hurrah for an actual day for lovers to celebrate!
Of course, too much of a good thing is no good, and the emphasis on having someone special to spend Christmas with can get out of hand. So much so, that if you’re single on Christmas, you’re a “loser dog” (負け犬, make-inu).
But, regardless of whether you’ve got a significant other to spend Christmas with or not, Christmas in Japan just wouldn’t be the same without Japan’s “traditional” Christmas meal: a finger-lickin’ good combo of Kentucky Fried Chicken chased by some strawberry shortcake – Japanese-style, of course.
What Is This Strawberry Shortcake You Speak Of?
Unlike the dense fruitcakes of most other countries, Japan’s unofficial Christmas cake is an airy sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberries. That is to say, it’s not actually a shortcake… and strawberries? In winter?
Anyway, this Japanese-style strawberry shortcake was first sold in 1922 by Fujiya Food Service Co., Ltd., although nobody really knows who came up with it in the first place. Some claim that Fujii Rinemon, the founder of Fujiya, brought the idea back with him from the US. Others claim that Kuniteru Kadokura of Colombin Co., Ltd., was inspired by a French dessert.
Peko-chan is Fujiya’s mascot. You’ve probably come across her smiling, tongue-sticking-out face before since Fujiya also makes heaps of other sweets and stuff.
Strawberry shortcake proved so popular that once refrigerated displays became readily available in the 1960s, there was no stopping it. Nowadays you can probably get it from any bakery or convenience store in Japan. It’s such a specifically Christmas dessert, though, that after Christmas, businesses slash their prices drastically to get rid of any unsold strawberry shortcakes. Some businesses may even start dropping their prices on Christmas Eve:
These big discounts and Japan’s youth-obsessed culture meant that not too long ago, women were referred to as Christmas cakes: once past the age of 25, her value as marriage material would drop significantly (because, you know, Christmas falls on the 25th). Like most other countries, though, these days it’s normal for both men and women to marry later.
Season’s Greetings, Folks!
So, how do you plan to spend your Christmas this year? What’s your opinion on Christmas in Japan? If you’ve spent Christmas in Japan before, tell us what it was like in the comments!
Make-inu is a general term for loser, and its use it not restricted to singles on Christmas.