Tastes of Japan: Christmas Cake

Christmas Cake

christmas cake
AKA: You’re old and ugly and no one wants you anymore

Quick, what’s the first thing you think of when I say, “Christmas”? Was it Santa? Spending time with the family? Celebrating the birth of Jesus? I’m willing to bet that it wasn’t cake, however over here in Japan, the Christmas cake is probably the most recognizable symbol of the holiday season. Like most holiday traditions, the reasons for it are likely lost among the younger generation, but Christmas cake in Japan is a symbol of wealth, prosperity and the post-war recovery of the nation.

Christmas as a holiday isn’t really celebrated beyond its commercial meaning in Japan: young children get gifts, lovers give each other gifts, people give their bosses and teachers gifts and everyone eats cake (and KFC, but that’s a post for next year). Less than one percent of the Japanese population is Christian, so nativity scenes are scarce. The winter feast is on New Year’s day, so no one gorges on the 25th, and no one gets the day off. Christmas is a romantic holiday, more than a family one.

So what’s with the cake? The tradition of eating Christmas cake, as explained here, comes from the post-war era of Japanese history. American soldiers handing out sweets to citizens, and missionaries bringing Christian values into the country imparted a sense of commercial wealth and grandness from the west into the Japanese population. Since the ingredients to make it were scarce, sponge cake was an elite luxury that quickly became a symbol of economic growth as more and more of the population came to be able to purchase it in the recovery years. These days, the only thing that can keep people from buying their yearly cake is a severe butter shortage.


Pictured: Also not very good.

For my part, I’m not a huge fan of Christmas cake. Though it looks fluffy, creamy and delicious, for the most part it’s bland and unsatisfying, like vaguely vanilla flavored air. Not that western Christmas cake is much better, but then again, I’m not someone who goes wild over sweets.


And for those wondering what’s with the caption up at the top, ‘Christmas cake’ is how one calls a woman an old maid over here. The saying goes, “A woman is like a Christmas cake; after the 25th, nobody wants either”. It’s wrong on so many levels, but that’s what it is.

Merry Christmas to all my readers. Have a safe and happy holiday.

Want to make it yourself? Find the recipe here and have at it!


7 thoughts on “Tastes of Japan: Christmas Cake

  1. Pingback: It’s Fall… Time to Order Cake, Postcards, and O-sechi! | Alex Hurst

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