Christmas in Japan is a completely secular holiday that’s usually associated with eating fried chicken (from KFC, no less) and strawberry shortcake. It’s also a time when the love hotels get busy, as, for some reason, Christmas means date time for many couples (if you want to celebrate Christmas with a bang, read up on love hotels here). For these reasons, you might find a Japanese Christmas festive but somewhat lacking in spirit. What’s a cheapo to do when a fancy Christmas dinner in Tokyo costs a fortune? Here are some ideas. First, if you want to experience Christmas the “traditional” Japanese way:
1. Have KFC for Christmas
It’s not a Japanese Christmas without KFC, thanks to a marketing campaign in the ’70s that promoted the idea that fried chicken is a typical Christmas meal in the West. (Supposedly, KFC came up with that clever bit of marketing because turkey is hard to come by in Japan, so they decided to position their chicken as an alternative.) Of course, people now know better, but the tradition stuck, and now, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you’re bound to see long lines at KFCs all over Japan. KFC has also branched out to selling a special barbecued chicken for Christmas.
This year, their Christmas package rates start at ¥2,400 for two pieces of KFC’s original fried chicken, four chicken tenders, five chicken nuggets, and one barbecued chicken—not bad for two people (rubbing in those romantic connotations for couples in Japan). Pricier packages for families or small groups cost around ¥4,000–¥5,000 and even come with cake and salad.
Are you single? And/or is your appetite not big enough? You can also order some chicken à la carte—and not just KFC’s regular menu, but also their holiday specials such as the barbecued chicken (¥650) and a half portion of smoked chicken (¥1,350 for standard; ¥1,450 for pastrami). And if you want to make sure not to miss out on KFC’s Christmas treats and save yourself the hassle of waiting in line, KFC is also taking reservations online (website in Japanese), with ¥100 discounts for early birds.
2. Is KFC too mainstream? Try its competitors!
Taking advantage of this association between Christmas and chicken, other fast-food chains have followed KFC’s example. First Kitchen and Lotteria, a hamburger chain, are just two examples.
3. Order a Christmas package from a convenience store
Of course, the konbini chains don’t want to miss out on Christmas, either. Major convenience stores Lawson, 7-11, and FamilyMart all accept orders for Christmas cakes, boxes of fried chicken, and anything else you might need for your Christmas dinner. You can make a reservation at their branches or online, and if you do so early enough, you can get a small discount.
At FamilyMart, fried chicken packages start at ¥930 (only from December 15th-25th) for a 6-piece box of FamiChiki—their popular chicken fillet—while cakes are at least ¥1,490. 7-11’s Christmas cakes start at ¥2,150, while their 4-piece chicken bucket costs ¥1,192. Lastly, Lawson’s 6-piece chicken drumstick and/or chicken fillet buckets range from ¥900–¥1,140, and their cheapest Christmas cake is ¥1,980 for a souffle cheesecake.
4. Have some chicken cake
Chicken or cake? Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it, too? Not chicken restaurant Zenyaren, which, in 2014, introduced a Christmas cake that looks like your usual strawberry shortcake, but is actually made of mashed potatoes and ground chicken. They’ve offered it for the past few years since then, although there have been no announcements yet for 2017, at least not of this writing. We don’t know how good (or awful) it tastes, so try it for yourself!
Address: 1-7-2 Tokyo Sankei Building, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Access: Otemachi Station
Web: http://zenyaren.jp/ (in Japanese)
Business hours: 11:30 am-2:00 pm for lunch and 5:00-11:00 pm for dinner on weekdays, 12:00 pm-10:00 pm on weekends
Lastly, if you want the closest thing to celebrating Christmas abroad without having to pay around 10,000 yen:
5. Eat up at a Christmas tabehoudai (buffet)
The Pink Cow, an American restaurant in Roppongi will have Christmas buffets from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm on the 24th and 25th, so this is the place to go if you miss the Christmas spirit back home. Vegan dishes are also on the menu. The buffet costs ¥5,000 (including one drink), and children aged 4-11 get to eat for half the price. They’re only taking reservations by email, so interested parties should message them their name, contact number, desired date and time, and the number of people in the group.
That’s not the only place to have your fill, though! Roti Roppongi will have two-hour Western-style buffets (including vegan options) on December 24th and 25th, and it’s also accepting take-out food orders. To order food to be picked up anytime between the 24th and 25th (3:00 pm-5:00 pm for both days), be sure to place an order by 5:00 pm on the 20th. The buffets all cost ¥4,800 for adults and ¥2,800 for children below age 9. Seatings are as follows:
- December 24th: 12:00 pm-2:00 pm | 4:00 pm-6:00 pm | 7:00 pm-9:00 pm
- December 25th: 12:00 pm-2:00 pm | 6:00 pm-8:00 pm | 9:00 pm-11:00 pm
To make a reservation, call them at 03-5785-3671 anytime from 10:00 am-4:00 pm (weekdays only) or e-mail them with your name, number of companions, desired date and time, and contact number.
Many mid-range to high-end hotels—including those at Tokyo Disney Resort—will also have special Christmas buffets (and not just buffets, but also lunch/dinner courses!).
6. Visit a Christmas market
There are several of these in and around Tokyo, and they usually serve German sausages and beer to keep you warm and fed. These markets are also rather picturesque, as they’re usually near some Christmas illuminations. You can read more about them here.
In our pilot episode, we're joined by Alvin Cheung of ABC Coffee, Hapnick, and Tokyo Keyboards