I knew that Christmas would be different in Japan. Yes, I expected the tears to drown me out of my apartment when I couldn’t get home to be with my family, and I planned ahead for the resulting need for cheap liquor. The one thing, I think, I never really planned for were the things that turned out to be great about Christmas abroad.
Japan and KFC: The Holiday Love Affair
The traditional Christmas dinner ’round these parts is a tub of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a plethora of sides. It’s incongruous enough to have me wondering whether I’ve accidentally moved to the Deep South instead of rural Japan to teach for the year. I don’t want to dive too deeply into why KFC is so popular a yuletide meal — GaijinPot does a pretty good job of that — but it basically breaks down to the rise of technology and great marketing. Apparently, that’s all it takes to convince a 99.99% non-Christian country to not only celebrate Christmas, but to do so with a bucket of delicious Frankfort Fried Grease.
I can’t say I was on-board with what I viewed as an unholy onslaught on the good name of Xmas binge eating. My (non-Italian) family makes a tradition of homemade lasagna and ham for the holiday; as for the desserts, lets not even go there. I’m just now feeling OK about being away for the holidays.
My resolve not to take part in the poultry pastime started out strong, as most reservations do. Yet, as I walked passed KFC day after day, oil-laden miasma turning to mother clucking delicious cloud of scented steam, I finally relented. Sort of.
As a certified penny-pincher, at least until I get my first paycheck in January, KFC’s price for a holiday meal was a bit too rich for my blood. Enter the supermarket. For a measly 500Y, or $4.75, you can tuck into a plate of four pieces of fried chicken, a selection of roasted potatoes, and two bratwurst segments. Oh, and let’s not forget about the corn dogs! This, to my mind, is the much better way to take part in the tradition.
Fulfilling Tradition with Strawberry Shortcake
After tackling the impostor KFC and the a la carte beer, it dawned on me that I still had to do one final thing to really eat like a local.
I needed to take down a slab of strawberry shortcake.
What is there to say? Like KFC, strawberry shortcake is not exactly what you think of when you think “Japan.” Some of the same forces, however, propelled this delicious layer cake version of the confectionery classic to legendary status. The sheer variety available from local bakeries this Christmas for this simple dessert made me dizzy; mocha strawberry, chocolate-chocolate strawberry, berry mix, strawberry with fresh mint! In the end, it was the simple version of whipped cream, strawberries, and buttery shortcake that seemed the best choice.
I won’t say this is my favorite way to eat on Christmas; it’s wasn’t. It lacked the conversation, the not-so-gentle ribbing of eating and drinking with family. Given the choice between eating your typical Japanese fare — food I love most days but Christmas — and KFC and shortcake, though, I gladly chose the delicious, fattening latter.
Have you ever indulged in Japan’s culinary traditions for Christmas? What are your thoughts on the KFC and cake? Sound off in the comments below!