5 Festive Facts About Japanese Christmas Cake

Including More Reasons To Eat Gateau This Holiday Season

By Anisa Kazemi
December 21, 2016
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’s 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

“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.

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 shortcakes! You’re free to use them all year round, though.

3. It has vulgar connotations

Once December 25th rolls around, Japanese Christmas cakes become heavily discounted — a fact that started the awful Japanese slang, “Christmas cake.” It scornfully refers to unmarried women past their 25th birthday (*shakes head*). Basically once you’re over 25, you’ve reached your “best before” date. Yours truly has one year left. (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 WWII 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.” 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). Savvy’s saliva-inducing guide to Tokyo’s Top 8 Dessert Shops is a good place to start your search.

If you’d like to try making it, check out this video. There’s also 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.

Have a very happy cake-eating holiday everyone!