The first year I lived in Japan, I was expecting to feel the most homesick around the Christmas holiday time. Looking back now, I definitely did miss the traditional holiday time with my family, but in terms of helping me to feel at home with Christmas displays and holiday cheer, I found that Japan held nothing back. My high school was located near Laketown, a massive shopping mall that was dizzying in scope. It was so decked out in holiday decorations that it put my hometown holiday commercial displays to shame.
One of the most ubiquitous displays of Christmas in Japan that caught my eye were Christmas Cakes (クリスマスケキー). The most common Japanese Christmas Cake is composed of sponge cake, a whipped cream topping, and a festive decoration of strawberries.
Having researched soft power and cultural influence in college, I decided to dig in a little deeper to examine this Christmas Cake tradition. According to this npr aticle, only about 1% of the Japanese population is Christian. So why the devotion to Christmas? Christmas Cakes first came onto the scene in Japan after World War II. At the time, food in general and sugary treats were not widely available, and the Japanese economy was reeling. American soldiers were the leading force behind rebuilding occupied Japan, and they occasionally gave out sweets like chocolate. Sweets became a symbol of a Japanese desire for monetary prosperity and Americanization. Japanese people began to embrace Christmas and Christmas Cake after the war as the epitome of abundance.
The colors of the Japanese Christmas Cake are also rich with meaning. The cakes are red and white, like the Japanese flag. The cakes are also typically round, which associates them with shrines in Japan. The Christmas Cake is a wonderful example of Japan modifying something from the West to fit its own needs.
Another fun fact, because the Christmas Cakes go on sale after the 25th of December, some old Japanese slang was born. “Christmas cake” was once used to refer to an unmarried woman who was over 25, i.e., past her prime. I guess that makes me a Christmas Cake!
I made this cake using The Spruce Eats’ sponge cake recipe, linked here. Between each layer I slathered on fresh whipped cream and fresh strawberries, cut into quarters. A Christmas Cake isn’t complete without Santa, so I made some little Santa munchkins out of strawberries, whipped cream, and mini chocolate chips. You can consider adding sugared rosemary or a fresh sprig of mint for a pop of holiday green coloration.
Thanks for learning a little more about the Japanese Christmas Cake tradition with us! メリークリスマス from Hadley Go Lucky!