Writing about Christmas and New Years in Japan

Kanto style ozoni (mochi soup) for New Years

I have new seasonal articles up on two sites; one about Christmas in Japan, which is a much more recent holiday of course, and one about New Years.

Christmas in Japan

The first article is for Atlas Obscura, and its about the history of Christmas cakes in Japan. They go back further than you might think, all the way to 1910!

I also recently wrote about an infamous fire that was at least indirectly caused by the popularity of Christmas back in 1932 over on Just My Japan. Together, they might give you a whole new perspective on the history of Christmas in Japan!

A lot of photos were cut from the Atlas Obscura article for space and other reasons. One of them is this spread from an old, out of print Japanese cookbook I have in my collection, called the Cooking Encyclopedia (料理百科). It it a massive hardcover book, first published in 1961, and was reprinted tons of times - the copy I have is from 1972 and it says it's the 63rd printing!


It shows a selection of sweet things for serving at a dinner party, including a strawberry shortcake. For some reason that is not explained in the text, the description says these are Swiss desserts. Now as you probably know, I have lived in Switzerland on and off over the past couple of decades, and my spousal unit is Swiss - and I don't ever remember seeing a strawberry shortcake in Switzerland. (I have seen at least similar items to the fruit compote and the fruitcake.) My guess is that they were seen as "Swiss" because French-trained Swiss chefs, especially the legendary Saly Weil (about which I plan to write about in depth soonish), had a lot of influence on European style cooking in Japan.

Incidentally, my mother had another copy of the Cooking Encyclopedia, which was lost years ago, that her older brother gave to her as a wedding gift, and I used to love poring over it when I was growing up. Even then the photos were quite archaic. When I saw a copy at an old bookseller some years ago I had to get it. It's been an invaluable resource for looking up how people used to eat in the 1960s to 1970s.

New Years "mochi soup" in Japan

This is my regular Japanese Kitchen column for The Japan Times. This month's article is about zoni or ozoni, the soup with mochi that's a staple over the New Year period in Japan. A lot of people no longer bother making osechi, the colorful spread packed in a box, but most people do make their own ozoni. As you can see from the included recipe, it's not so hard! But do beware of regional differences, especially if you have Japanese in-laws.

Speaking of osechi, I came across this product the other day while looking for something on Amazon Japan.


It's from Nissin Foods, makers of the legendary Nissin Cup Noodle. Described as a Cup Noodle Osechi Set, it contains 31 types of Cup Noodles, a reusable and microwaveable Cup Noodle cup, and a special Cup Noodle Fork that was used in a Lawson promotion a while back. It comes packed in a box that looks like a traditional juubako (the big bento-box like box that osechi is served in), and is sold for 7,777 yen. The idea is that you can survive the New Year holiday period on these cup noodles alone, if you wanted to.

It's hilarious, yet depressing at the same time.

Filed under:  christmas new years holidays writing elsewhere japantimes atlasobscura

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