Japan's Christmas Cakes
Widespread celebration of Christmas in Japan is relatively new. While people, mostly expats from other countries, celebrated Christmas in Japan, most Japanese people didn’t consider it a big holiday. It began to gain steam just a few decades ago, after World War II, and because of that, Japan’s Christmas celebrations have a few unique twists.
The first is that because Christmas in Japan isn’t a particularly religious holiday, it’s instead seen as a romantic holiday. While many people still have a special Christmas dinner with their family on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve is almost always celebrated with one’s significant other. There’s also a recent trend of having a party with your single friends, but either way the holiday has a very different feeling than American Christmas.
Starting as early as the beginning of November, as Thanksgiving isn’t celebrated in Japan and there’s no social rules against it, Christmas decorations start cropping up in Japan. Especially on busy pedestrian walkways, trees and buildings covered in lavish Christmas lights decorate the streets. These beautiful places are a common place for couples or groups of friends to walk through and enjoy the romantic atmosphere.
Christmas cakes are also an integral part of Japan’s Christmas traditions. Unlike Western “Christmas cakes,” which are dense and filled with fruit, Japanese Christmas cakes are traditionally a round sponge cake covered in whipped cream frosting and decorated with strawberries. Sometimes they also feature small Christmas-related decorations like a Santa or holly berries, but most are quite plain. However, as the market for Christmas cakes grows, bakeries across Japan strive to create unique and beautiful Christmas cakes that stand out from the crowd. Among these are a cake borrowed from Europe, known as buche de noel. This log-shaped cake has become a popular choice in Japan for its beauty and novel shape.
On Christmas Eve, many couples make reservations for upscale restaurants and exchange gifts. Many of these couples will also pick up a Christmas cake as part of their celebrations, and streets are always packed in the days leading up to Christmas. Between the people there to pick up their Christmas cakes and those that are there to pick up the traditional Japanese Christmas dinner of KFC, Japanese stores on Christmas Eve are often reminiscent of stores in America on Black Friday.
This year, we decided to skip the rush and put our own spin on this Japanese tradition. Our first cake is a Matcha Christmas Cake, modeled after the typical Christmas cake. Weightless sponge cake is paired with airy matcha whipped cream then decorated with juicy red strawberries for a festive look. It’s very easy to find strawberries in winter when in Japan, because their strawberries have two fruiting seasons, but they were a little harder to find here in the states. Still, we think this cake turned out beautiful!
Our second cake is a Hojicha Buche de Noel. Instead of using the traditional cocoa powder for the sponge cake, we opted to use Hojicha powder instead for a fun twist. This gives the inside a fun, lighter look once the cake is cut and would be a perfect addition to a holiday dinner. You can add powdered sugar for a wintery look that will look great on any table.
Whatever kind of cake you serve at Christmas, we here at Sugimoto are wishing you a safe and happy holiday!