Sporadic Happiness (in Japan!)

(formerly) updated every Wednesday

#4 Japanese Christmas Cakes

How was everyone’s Christmas?  (For those who celebrated it).

(Photo from an advertisement for Loft, probably my favorite store in Japan EVER.  Post about that later).

Japan’s celebrates Christmas differently than in the US.  Instead of being a holiday you celebrate with family, it’s more of a couples holiday.  Kind of like an extra Valentine’s day.  As my boyfriend and I were walking around Yokohama on Christmas Day in the evening, it was almost all couples, with a smattering of families with young children.  I think Christmas Day itself is more celebrated than Christmas Eve here, but I could be wrong.  It’s also purely a commercial holiday, with absolutely no religious undertones.  Most families still get presents for their children I believe, but presents amongst other family members are not swapped around, and extended families don’t get together to celebrate.  Japan reserves that custom for New Years, which is generally spent over the span of several days (Jan 1st through 3rd).

There is one Christmas tradition that families as well as couples seem to have adopted that we don’t have in the US, and that’s the tradition of a Christmas Cake.  Now, I admit I don’t know how Christmas is celebrated in other countries, and I have the impression that some countries (like in Europe) might have a Christmas cake tradition too (developed from the yule log custom maybe).  Does anyone have anything to share on this subject?

Nevertheless, in the US, we eat all manner of goodies at Christmas (cookies, fruit cake, pies, other Christmas-themed desserts, etc) but we don’t eat cake per-say.  Okay maybe coffee cake.  But it really depends on your family and what they decide to get or make for dessert – the actual kind of dessert is not prescribed.

In Japan however, Christmas cakes are “a thing.”  Most people get one.  Many people reserve them from a local supermarket, convenience store, or sweets shop to be delivered or picked up.  Other people buy them in person at little stalls set up in various shopping centers slightly before and during Christmas.

My boyfriend and I, having lived in Japan for a few years and never having sampled a Japanese Christmas Cake, decided to get in on this tradition this year.

First off, we were pleasantly surprised when my adult English conversation class that I teach on Thursdays brought in 2 of these cakes to our end of semester Christmas party.

Here’s what they looked like.

As you might have noticed from the picture, Japanese Christmas cakes are rather small.  It would be considered a “small size” in this US, whereas it’s the normal size here.  And despite its size, each is rather pricey.  I don’t know how much those cakes above cost exactly, but they are pretty standardly 2800-3600 yen (roughly $28-36).  For one, single cake.  One of my adult students brought in the above TWO for us, spending easily over $50 just for dessert.

Here’s a closer look at the first one:

This is a pretty standard Japanese Christmas cake.  A sort of yellow sponge cake with (light) cream frosting and strawberries.  Besides the strawberries it’s actually not that sweet, more “refreshing.”  (The decorations on top however, are full of sugar).

Here’s a closer look at the second one:

This one was quite tasty actually.  Sometimes my boyfriend and I are disappointed with chocolate-flavored sweets found in Japan, as they don’t usually resemble chocolate all that strongly.  This one however was quite delicious and seemed to be spruced up with some sort of extra flavoring that added a bit of a rummy flavor.

Part of the reason these cakes are so expensive is because of the elaborate decorations on top.  Here’s a close-up of a Santa made out of sugar.
(He was delicious by the way).

Another reason the cakes are so expensive is because butter and cream are quite expensive.  Most of the butter comes from one area of Japan (Hokkaido) and a lot of the cream and dairy products come from there too, so there’s only so much supply, plus shipping costs on top of that.

Since my boyfriend and I each got just one slice of these, we were interested in getting our very own Christmas cake on Christmas day.

Being in Yokohama (near Tokyo) for the first half of our winter break, we found that the underground shopping center below the main Yokohama train station had lots of stalls set up selling these cakes.

After browsing a few, we landed upon this beauty:

A big part of its appeal was the price tag – 1000 yen.  That’s like $10 and is practically a steal when you consider the prices of the standard Christmas Cake.

Also, it had both cream (which I enjoy) and chocolate cake (which my boyfriend enjoys), and, to both our delights, chocolate shavings down the middle.  It didn’t have any fancy decorations on top (hence the cheapness) but we were plenty satisfied without them.

The one decoration it did have wished us a nice day.  How sweet!

This cake tasted heavenly too.  It was a decent size for just two people – we spread out the eating of it over two days too.  Below is a picture of the cake compared to my boyfriend’s hand.  Admittedly, he’s tall, so his hands are a bit large, but even so, it’s still a modest size cake.

Now Christmas Cake season has ended.  I was disappointed that they weren’t selling all the unsold cakes at discounted prices the next day…if so I would have gladly snapped up another one.  I wonder what they do with those extra cakes?  I sure hope they don’t throw them out.

If you’re interested in seeing further examples of the Japanese Christmas Cake tradition, try searching クリスマスケーキ (Japanese for “Christmas Cake”) on google, you’ll be able to see lots more pretty examples of these pricey delicacies.

Anyone else had the experience of getting to eat one of these before?  Or have you eaten a Christmas cake in another country?  Tell us about your Christmas dessert traditions!

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