What is Christmas Like in Japan?
Does Japan celebrate Christmas? Well, that question is best answered with sort of. In Western countries, Christmas is simultaneously a religious occasion, a time to be with family, and a gift-giving extravaganza. In Japan, Christianity is not widely practiced, so the idea of commemorating Christ’s birth doesn’t resonate with the average Japanese. Rather, Christmas in Japan means romantic lights, decorations, and treats that symbolize love and happiness. In Japan, Christmas Eve has been repurposed as a time for couples to go out on a dinner date, so it is similar to Valentine’s Day in the West. Parties with friends are also common in Japan during Christmas, not unlike how the West celebrates New Years. Over the years, Japan has created many of its own unique traditions around Christmas.
Japan’s Unique Christmas Traditions
One Christmas tradition in Japan is kurisumasu keki (Christmas Cake). This light sponge cake with whipped cream frosting and bright red strawberries is practically its own institution. You’ll find Christmas Cake everywhere you turn during the Christmas season. Another Christmas tradition is a meal from Kentucky Fried Chicken. As surprising as it sounds, KFC Japan launched its bucket of chicken as a Christmas meal decades ago, and now it’s synonymous with baked ham or turkey on Christmas day in the West.
While gift giving is primarily between romantic couples on Christmas Eve in Japan, there is a time in December for nonromantic gift giving. Oseibo is an end-of-year gift that people give their bosses or other important allies as a token of appreciation. Oseibo gifts often involve sweets, snacks, fruits, alcohol, or household products. However, many younger Japanese prefer to give a more Westernized Christmas gift to a friend instead of getting wrapped up in the obligatory nature of Oseibo gift giving culture.
Christmassy Japanese Snacks and Desserts
The Strawberry Tartlet is a Japanese sweet that brings to mind a strawberry-topped Christmas Cake. Each tart consists of a buttery biscuit filled with real strawberry jam. The jam is slightly tart and just the right amount of sweet, perfect for you or your Christmas date.
Another strawberry snack is the Puku Puki Tai: Strawberry. This sea bream (tai) fish-shaped Japanese snack gives all the vibes of a festival in Japan, so it’s fitting for Christmas. Instead of the traditional anko red bean paste filling, it has a delicious strawberry mousse inside a light and crispy biscuit shell.
In keeping with the theme of romance during Christmas in Japan, you can’t go wrong with Setouchi Lemon Pie. These are cute little heart-shaped cookies made with flaky pie dough and sprinkled with sugar. Nobody likes a cloyingly sweet koibito (lover), and setouchi lemons have a nice balance of sweet comfort and tangy excitement to represent the ideal romantic partner.
A savory alternative is Spicy Mini Heart Senbei. These little heart-shaped senbei rice crackers may look innocent, but they pack a mighty punch of chili powder. They come in three spicy flavors: goma (sesame), mustard, and aonori (green seaweed). Sending these spicy senbei to your love interest is sure to turn up the heat!
Larger Gift Boxes
A perfect Japanese candy box choice for a Christmas event is Pocky: Megami no Ruby Goddess. You know those thin breadsticks dipped in chocolate called Pocky? Well, Pocky stepped things up and is now in the elevated and classy adult realm. This biscuit stick is infused with cheese and black pepper, and the coating is dark chocolate with a berry finish. Move over, kodomo-tachi (children), this Pocky is meant to pair with wine-drinking adults!
If you’re going for more variety, here is a gift box that is sure to impress: December ’21 Classic Bokksu: Hokkaido Holidays. It’s packed with Japanese snacks and sweets from Hokkaido, the winter wonderland in the north of Japan. Hokkaido is known for its dairy farms and fresh produce, and it shows in this collection. From sweet potato cookies to milk mochi to apple gummies and wasabi rice crackers, this Japanese snack box is chock full of delectable items that will make the recipient know how much you appreciate them.
Another collection of Japanese candy that will bring a smile to Christmas party guests is the Japanese Kit Kat: Variety Party Box 2021. Wow your guests with some of the traditional Japanese Kit Kat flavors, and make them scratch their heads at others. Flavors run the gamut from iconic to ironic, including green tea (matcha), sake, azuki red bean, wasabi, purple yam, apple, and rum raisin. You can even make a party game by having guests close their eyes and guess some of the 21 flavors of Kit Kats in this box!
Bokksu Has You Covered
Close the year out in style with these Japanese sweets and more that can be purchased individually on Bokksu. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, register on Bokksu.com for our Japanese snack subscription box where a new package of Japanese candies, snacks, and teas shows up on your doorstep every month!
Regardless of whether you celebrate family or friends, bosses or lovers, religion or romance, Bokksu has a perfect gift for you to celebrate Christmas and the winter season. Mina-san meri kurisumasu! (Merry Christmas, everyone!)
By Megan Taylor Stephens