Christmas is a big holiday in Japan, but it’s celebrated differently than in the West.
The most significant difference is that Christmas isn’t a religious holiday here. It’s more of a cultural celebration that falls around the same time as Christmas in the West.
People typically celebrate Christmas by eating with friends or family; many special Christmas-themed foods are popular.
These include things like turkey, ham, and cake, but there are also some uniquely Japanese dishes that you might not find elsewhere.
While there are some similarities in the festive decorations and activities, Japanese Christmas traditions are unique.
For example, while many countries eat turkey for Christmas dinner, in Japan, the main dish is usually chicken.
But what food is traditionally served on Christmas in Japan?
In this blog post, I’ll explore the popular dishes served on Christmas day in Japan and give tips for recreating these delicious festive recipes at home.
KFC Chicken: The Popular Choice
The Christmas tradition of eating fried chicken has existed in Japan since the 1970s.
The American ex-pat who started it all was looking for a turkey substitute as they were hard to come by then.
Since then, it has become a beloved tradition, and KFC has become the go-to place for Japanese people looking for a festive meal.
Every year, millions of Japanese families queue up at their local KFC to get their hands on a bucket of wings, mashed potatoes, or a Christmas-themed meal box. KFC’s signature 11 herbs and spices give the fried chicken a unique flavor that the Japanese have come to love.
Other fast food chains, such as Family Mart, have joined the Christmas festivities by offering fried chicken dishes.
It’s no surprise that fried chicken is Japan’s most famous Christmas meal!
Traditional Japanese Christmas Dishes
In addition to KFC fried chicken, other traditional Japanese Christmas dishes are enjoyed by Japanese families each year. One such dish is a marinated grilled salmon fillet.
It is usually cooked with soy sauce, mirin, and sake, which gives it a rich flavor.
Vegetables, rice, and miso soup in many households for a complete meal accompany this dish.
Other popular dishes are the potato salad, typically made with potatoes, mayonnaise, and eggs, and the takikomi Gohan, a rice dish cooked with various vegetables and mushrooms.
These dishes can be found nationwide at Christmas in many restaurants and convenience stores.
Ozoni (Mochi Soup)
Ozoni is a traditional Japanese soup that’s eaten on Christmas Eve. It’s made with mochi, which is a rice cake.
Ozoni is similar to oden, another popular Japanese dish that’s eaten during the winter months. Ozoni can be made with beef, chicken, or seafood.
If you’re going vegetarian, use tofu instead of meat or fish and add some extra vegetables!
Grilled salmon is an excellent choice for Christmas food, especially if you want to eat healthily and avoid traditional turkey.
Salmon is one of the most nutritious foods, packed with protein and Omega-3 fatty acids.
It’s also easy to make; rub oil on your skinless salmon fillets, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and grill! You can even put it in foil packets for easy cleanup.
Tempura is a Japanese dish of seafood, vegetables, and other battered and deep-fried ingredients.
It is usually served with sweetened dipping sauce or tsuyu (soy sauce) and grated daikon radish.
The batter is made from wheat flour, eggs, and water, which creates a light and crispy coating for the ingredients it coats.
Tempura can be served as an appetizer or as a main dish, depending on the type of dish you order at your restaurant or a local tempura restaurant near you.
Christmas Cake: A Traditional Treat
While the Japanese Christmas cake differs from the traditional fruitcake in the West, it’s still a popular dessert during the holiday season.
The cake comprises sponge cake layers, whipped cream, and strawberries. It’s often decorated with Christmas trees or other festive designs.
And just like in other countries, people in Japan celebrate Christmas with family and friends. They might exchange presents, attend church, or have a special meal together. But one thing that’s unique to Japan is the Wagashi sweet.
Wagashi is a traditional Japanese sweet often made for holidays like Christmas.
It can be anything from a simple cake to a more elaborate dessert. The most popular Wagashi for Christmas is Anpan, a bun filled with red bean paste.
Other Christmas Sweets in Japan
Another popular Christmas tradition in Japan is indulging in tasty, sweet treats.
The classic “Kurisumasu Kasutera” is a sponge cake topped with the Japanese favorite Anko bean paste.
There’s the “Shokupan,” a milk-flavored bread roll with unsalted butter for a modern take on traditional Japanese flavors.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can opt for the unique chocolate-covered bananas or “Choco Banana”
Real bananas are covered in milk and white chocolate layers for this festive treat and finished with crunchy nut bits.
Eating Out on Christmas in Japan
It’s also common to eat out on Christmas in Japan. Of course, many restaurants are closed, but plenty stays open to cater to those who want to avoid cooking at home on holiday.
Other than KFC, Pizza is another option if fried chicken differs from what you want.
It might seem like an odd choice, but it’s become such a Christmas staple in Japan that pizza places offer special deals and coupons in December for the holiday season.
Japanese-style Christmas Dinner Recipes
Japanese Christmas dinner menus vary from household to household, with many families having unique recipes and traditions.
Several exciting dishes can be prepared to prepare a meal inspired by the Japanese Christmas experience.
Chirashi-zushi, a popular party food typically eaten on Girls’ Day, is also a popular holiday dish. It is a colorful mix of sushi rice topped with fish, eggs, and vegetables.
Another classic dish is savory cabbage pancakes made with shredded cabbage, onions, and other vegetables.
Newer Christmas Food Trends
Other newer trends include baking your Christmas cake from scratch and eating a cake shaped like Santa Claus.
Many bakeries also offer special Christmas-themed treats like cookies, pastries, and chocolates, popular gifts for friends and family during the holiday season.
Some restaurants offer sushi sets or soba noodle dishes with Christmas-themed decorations for healthier options.
These memorable meals are becoming increasingly popular as people seek lighter alternatives to traditional foods served during Christmastime.
Japan has its unique spin on Christmas foods.
In Japan, Christmas is on December 25th. Many foods eaten at Christmas in Japan are similar to those eaten at other Christmases worldwide.
For example, Christmas cake is famous in Japan as it is in different countries, and kuromame (sweet black beans) is also a standard part of Japanese Christmas feasts.
However, some foods are unique to the tradition developed over time in Japan.
Kuri Kinton (Chestnut Rice Porridge)
When you think about eating chestnuts during wintertime, you might imagine roasting them over an open fire or boiling them into confections like marrons glacés.
That’s not quite what Kuri Kinton means, though!
Instead, this is a rice porridge made with sweet chestnut puree instead of regular water or milk like most rice portion recipes use; it’s usually served with some topping such as sugar caramelized walnuts and vanilla ice cream!