The First Day of Christmas in Japan

Tonight’s entry is the first part in my series on experiencing Christmas in Japan through the eyes of an American. These posts are written from my own observation and experience, so feel free to yell at me or disagree with anything I write. Comments are welcome on these posts.

(And, yes, I know that The 12 Days of Christmas actually refers to the period from Christmas Day to the beginning of Epiphany, I just thought this was a good time for the series. Apologies.)

On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me A partridge in a pear tree.

Only it was chicken. And it was in a bucket. And it came from the Colonel.

Every year, it seems, I get asked if my family enjoys chicken around Christmas, and, if so, do we buy it from KFC? Once I’ve explained that, no, we usually have turkey and cook it at home the discussion usually turns to what side dishes we eat with the bird. I mention all the standards, mashed potatos, stuffing, salad, rolls, cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie, etc. etc. Students marvel and ask more questions and life goes on.

When I ask what they plan to do for Christmas dinner, the response is fairly standard. If the students in question are under, say, 50 and married or have an SO, they’ll usually say that they’re buying the chicken set from KFC and having it with Christmas cake. If I ask why KFC? The answer is that it’s what Americans do. Any prior discussion to the contrary immediately being tossed out the window.

KFC, of course, caters to this by advertising specials and discounts quite heavily. In addition, they put in a reservation schedule so that you can make sure that they’ll have your chicken ready. Recently, they’ve added to the menu with seasonal specials featuring broiled chicken and different combinations of spices (most likely in response to increased competition from MOS Burger, a popular Japanese hamburger chain) on the fried chicken.

Side dishes are included in the set of course. You may choose between potatos gratin, fried potatos, and cole slaw. You’ll note that the list lacks mashed potatos and stuffing. And bread roles. Although that’s ok, really, because there’s no gravy to be soaked up, and what would be the point of bread roles without gravy?

Moving on, the concept of Christmas Cake for desert was picked up from England and has rapidly changed it’s meaning. I think, although I won’t swear to it, that Christmas Cake, to an American, would be Fruit Cake. Well, in Japan, it just means a Christmas themed cake. Usually chocolate but I’ve also seen white cake with powdered green tea sprinkled over the top as well as sponge cake filled with lightly whipped cream. All good cakes mind you, just not what I would expect to eat on Christmas Day.

Part of the confusion comes from the different sources of English, (One of the bigger differences between British and American food is the use of the word ‘pie’. Ask an American and they’ll tell you that a pie is a desert. Apple, cherry, chocolate, etc. Ask a Brit, though, and you’ll get a main dish.) and another is just the Japanese habit of borrowing from foreign cultures and re-making the borrowed item until it is distinctly Japanese.

When all is said and done, it’s a good dinner. M and I had that for dinner two years ago and had a lovely time. Then again, last year, a friend bought a bird and we had a bunch of people together to eat turkey and mashed potatos and stuffing. As I said, they were both good, but, if you ask me which one is the better Christmas Day Dinner, well, there’s really no contest.

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