December 2018
The Japanese have a long history of incorporating non-Japanese customs into their own traditions (denim, baseball, coffee, jazz…). Christmas is no exception. At the end of World War II, Christmas represented “America” for the Japanese. Images of Christmas celebrations gave a tangible picture of a prosperous modern life in America. In reaction to wartime constraints, postwar expressions of Japanese recovery and self-confidence were born. Even though less than 1% of the population was (is) Christian, the Japanese adopted the Christmas holiday and adapted it to suit their cultural contexts—adding distinctive features not found elsewhere in Christmas customs.

Today, Christmas is a broadly celebrated secular, commercial, holiday in Japan. The Japanese have developed two unique components of the holiday celebration: “Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii’ and the Japanese Christmas Cake.
KFC’s Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii
Introduced by Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan nationally in 1974, ‘Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii’ or ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ was a marketing campaign developed to promote KFC’s ‘Party Barrel.’ While the company had only entered the Japanese market in 1970 — the ‘Party Barrel’ for Christmas became almost immediately a national phenomenon.

The campaign has been repeated every year since to become a national tradition. Sales during the Christmas season account for ⅓ of KFC Japan’s yearly sales. An estimated 3.6 million Japanese families treat themselves to fried chicken from the American fast-food chain on Christmas.

It’s now not unusual to order Christmas fried chicken months in advance to avoid long lines around the block at Christmastime. KFC’s ‘Party Barrel’ has grown into special family meal-sized boxes filled with chicken, wine and Christmas Cake, or yo-gashi.
Japanese Christmas Cake
In the early 20th century yo-gashi [yo=western g/kashi=sweet] had been a novelty available exclusively to upper aristocratic class with their strong penchant for Western culture. Government rationing of sweets during the war stimulated a great demand for sugar in the post-war years. Post-war consumption of yo-gashi came to represent a rise of the national standard of living. Yo-gashi implied a transformation into an affluent life in a democratic society. Through purchasing the sponge cake, covered with snow white whipped cream and ruby red strawberries, ordinary households in Japan could symbolically celebrate the nation’s rising economic prosperity. The Christmas cake, therefore, appeared as a representation of the prevailing favorable attitude to yo-gashi with its attached idealistic images.

The whiteness was connected to sacredness as found in early ceremonial foods. Also, the whiteness of the whipped cream topping indicated a luxury brought by the most advanced refrigeration technology of the time. The red color of the strawberries is also symbolic. Red is the color to repel evil spirits. A combination of white and red indicates an auspicious sign to the Japanese and appears in a variety of their cultural expressions.
Apple’s Shortcake Emoji
The Shortcake emoji, introduced in 2010, is actually a slice of Japanese Christmas Cake. Like the Birthday Cake emoji, it may be used to represent birthday celebrations or cake in general. The Shortcake emoji was approved as part of Unicode 6.0 in 2010 and added to Emoji 1.0 in 2015.
‘Kentucky for Christmas’ remains a cultural tradition. Colonel Sanders as a red-suited Mr. Santa is a venerated symbol of the holiday, delivering family-sized meal boxes filled with fried chicken, Christmas Cake, and Champagne. Though not a national holiday, an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families celebrate Christmas with KFC and yo-gashi.
¼ cups (60ml) water
¼ cups (50g) sugar
1 tablespoon (15ml) Grand Marnier

1 pound (450g) strawberries
1 cup (240ml) canned peaches, drained

Whipped Cream
2 cups (480ml) heavy cream
¼ cups (50g) sugar
½ teaspoon (3ml) vanilla extract

1 7″ (18cm) sponge cake
1 7″ (18cm) cake board
1. To make syrup, put water and sugar in a pot and let it boil for a minute until the sugar completely dissolves. Let it cool and add liquor. Set aside.

2. Cut 4 strawberries into halves for decoration, and cut the rest into small pieces. Cut peaches into the same size as strawberry pieces.

3. In a bowl of a stand mixer, add heavy cream. Set it in the mixer, and start whipping at medium speed, adding sugar in 2–3 parts until medium peaks form. Mix in vanilla.

4. After getting all the components ready, assemble the cake. Slice the Sponge Cake horizontally into 3 layers. Set the bottom layer on a cake board on a turning cake table. Brush the syrup on the cake well, spread on about ⅕ of the whipped cream, and put ½ of the fruit fillings on the cream. Add another layer of cake, push down lightly, brush the syrup, spread more whipped cream (another ⅕) and the remainder of the fruit filling. Add the last layer of the cake, push down lightly, and brush the syrup on. Coat cake with a very small amount of cream, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Put another ⅕ of the whipped cream in a piping bag with a piping tip (any kinds) and set aside. Frost the whole cake with the rest of the whipped cream. Pipe 8 rosettes with the piping bag and top with the strawberry halves.
Holidays take on their mythic power through repetition, and our own natural ability and inclination to make meaning. It’s a form of making something out of nothing, or, filling a void.

May 2019 be a year of creative meaning-making, and be finger licking good.
Jennifer & David
Recipe: Japanese Cooking 101 dot com