The Colonel handing out flyers for KFC Christmas buckets. “Kentucky for Christmas” has been a holiday slogan in Japan since 1974. (Shutterstock)

From KFC to the first New Year’s sunrise, Japanese natives reminisce about their holiday experiences in Japan.

Ice-Cream Cake

When I think of Christmas, I think of ice-cream cake.

I was born in the Showa era during the early ’60s. Japan was still recovering from the war even 16 years later. People were recovering little by little, and our family had enough money to enjoy some nice things.

I remember there was a dairy store in my town, which was common in every town during this time, that sold goods such as milk, yogurt, and ice cream. They also delivered fresh milk to your door every single morning in a glass bottle. 

My morning routine as a child was to hear the sound of glass clattering around in the wooden box that we had in our house when the milkman delivered milk every morning.

When Christmas came around, our family had a tradition of buying an ice-cream cake from our local dairy store. I remember that beautifully decorated sponge cake like it was yesterday. It was covered with colorful candy confetti, chocolate, and a chubby little Santa Claus on top. I thought it looked like a jewelry box, and I remember sitting and looking at that cake for a long time.

— Miyuki Kunito

KFC: A Christmas Tradition

Kentucky Fried Chicken is a Christmas tradition in Japan. I remember eating KFC for Christmas for the first time when I was a teenager. It was so delicious and unlike anything my friends and I had ever eaten. We were instant fans. I did not know why we had the tradition of KFC for Christmas in Japan when I was younger, but I know now.

After World War II, there were many American people who stayed on military bases in Japan and they brought their culture and traditions with them. In America, people tend to eat things like turkey for Christmas, but turkeys are almost impossible to buy in Japan and are very expensive, especially for the people who were still recovering from the war.  After some time, Japan began having some economic growth and people were able to have some luxuries like parties and feasts. Christmas was a very popular and appealing idea even though very few Japanese people are Christians.

KFC opened their first shop in Nagoya in the 1970s and I remember that there was a song they played about everyone having a barrel bucket of KFC during Christmas. It was a big hit, and if you were a teenager, it was a “must have” item. I think they still play the song today in commercials. Some people could even afford turkeys too, but almost no one had an oven to cook it, so we would buy KFC for Christmas instead.

Asami Sato

Es ist kalt?

In December of 2019, my friends and I had been studying German in college and we heard about a German Christmas Market in Osaka. It was Christmas Eve, so we decided to go visit to practice our German and have a good time. 

I remember feeling so cold that my teeth were chattering. I wanted something warm to eat, so I went up to a stand selling piping-hot waffles and built up the courage to use the German I had been studying in class. I walked up and said, “Es ist kalt?” which I thought meant “It’s cold, isn’t it?” I’m not sure if they didn’t hear me or if my pronunciation was wrong, but I was completely ignored. 

I later learned that “Es ist kalt, nicht wahr” means “It’s cold, isn’t it?” and “Es ist kalt” just means “It’s cold,” so I couldn’t communicate with them because my German was wrong in the first place!

I was sooo embarrassed! My friends cheered me up and we enjoyed the rest of our time at the market eating waffles and stollen. I would like to go back to the German Christmas Market again, but they’ve been closed for the past two years due to COVID-19. Even though this memory was a little embarrassing, I will try my best to speak German again.  Hopefully the shopkeeper will understand me next time!

— Saya Watanabe

The First Sunrise: Hatsu-Hinode

Witnessing the Jan. 1 sunrise has long been a favorite way to welcome the new year in Japan. ( Photo Credit: Ryo Furutani )

It was 4 a.m., Jan. 1, 2019. My family and I spent New Year’s Eve watching “Downtown’s Gaki no Tsukai” and eating New Year’s dishes. I was just about to go to bed when my friend called and said, “Let’s go see the first sunrise!”

So I did my best to wake myself up and meet my friends at 6 in the morning. We decided to hike up a mountain near my house overlooking Kyoto. The mountain was about the height of Kyoto Tower so it provided a great view. We reached the top at around 6:30 and stood in the cold chatting while we waited for the sunrise.

When it rose, I was taken aback by how beautiful it was. My friends and I were seniors in high school at the time and we were getting ready for our college examinations. We decided to pray for a successful year and vowed to do our best in the coming exams. 

Seeing the first sunrise lifted my spirits and I felt like I had a fresh start for the new year. I would like to continue to watch the first sunrise of the year with my friends for many years to come.

— Ryo Furutani

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