5 Festive Facts About Japanese Christmas Cake
Including More Reasons To Eat Gateau This Holiday Season
December 16, 2020
Food & Drink
So what's the deal with Japanese Christmas Cake? Since knowing stuff makes things taste better, here are a few facts to whet your appetite. #thedietstartsnextyear
Christmas Eve in Japan is celebrated more like Valentine’s Day is in America and Europe. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, and on the day itself, young couples bask in all things lovey-dovey like taking arm-in-arm city strolls to see the illuminations, wandering around the Christmas markets, sharing a romantic meal at expensive restaurants, and eating obligatory “Christmas” cake.
However, Japanese Christmas cake is not rich, fruit-laden, or even spiced with ginger. Instead, it is a light sponge cake, covered in whipped cream and decorated with fresh strawberries. And it’s delicious.
Though seemingly plain, there’s much to be said about the infamous Japanese Christmas cake. Here are five festive facts (and some great alliteration) to enjoy while you’re scoffing your face with cake! Go on, it’s Christmas.
1. It’s everywhere
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“Christmas” cake is so dominant in Japanese culture that during the festive season, it is literally sold on every corner. Don’t believe me? Just visit your nearest 7-Eleven. During the month of December, I guarantee you will find various Christmas cakes frosted with mounds of fresh cream, ruby red strawberries, and a variety of chocolate or plastic holiday ornaments including Santas, snowmen, angels, wreaths, and holly at each location. The range is usually sponsored by a celebrity or idol group. This year’s offerings are endorsed by Jonny’s idol group King & Prince. Say “kakkoiiiiii“.
2. There’s an emoji for it
Not once but twice the Japanese Christmas cake features as the only cake emoji in our smartphone emoji selection. Yes, those are no ordinary shortcakes! You’re free to use them all year round, though.
3. It has vulgar connotations
Once December 25 rolls around, Japanese Christmas cakes become heavily discounted—a fact that started the awful Japanese slang term, “Christmas cake.” It scornfully refers to unmarried women past their 25th birthday. Basically, once you’re over 25, you’ve reached your “best before” date. (If that’s the case, we’ve gone moldy.—Ed.)
4. The color and shape are symbolic
What’s red and white and round? If you said “Japanese Christmas cake”—well done for reading the above, but what I’m actually referring to is the national flag! The white icing topped with strawberries alludes to the white background and red circle (representing the sun, not strawberries) that make up the Japanese emblem.
5. It’s a status thing
According to David W. Plath’s in The Journal of American Folklore (yes, there’s a whole academic discourse around the Japanese Christmas), the cake was a way for Japan to emulate American post-war prosperity, encapsulated by the image of a family sit-down Christmas dinner. But the main attraction isn’t the turkey, it’s the cake—a sugar-laden, cream-filled representation of everything that Japan was trying to achieve in the years following Word War II when food, especially luxury items like sweets and cakes, was scarce.
Want to try it?
To be honest, I haven’t tried baking one myself. When it comes to fancy cakes, I’m more of a “buy it, throw it on a cheap plate, Instagram it and pretend-you-made-it-yourself kinda’ girl.” But if you did want to give it a go yourself, there are lots of recipes here on Savvy, including a healthier take on traditional Christmas Pudding and this gluten, dairy, and sugar-free holiday “White Christmas” treat.
For cakes of the ordinary does-the-job variety, try your local supermarket (or even convenience store, if you’re in a hurry). To push the boat out, department stores and boutique patisseries design their own celebration cakes that look almost too good to eat (almost). Check out our recent list of unique seasonal cakes for the best picks on offer this year. Our saliva-inducing guide to Tokyo’s Top 8 Dessert Shops is a good place to start your search, too.
Have a very happy cake-eating holiday everyone!