Yes, the Christmas season is supposed to be about intangibles like gratitude, giving, and joyful time shared with family and friends. But one must eat, too. Foreigners in Japan who aren’t used to feasting on fast-food fried chicken and fancy cakes as key parts of the holiday might find themselves craving a taste (or two) of home as the holidays roll around. Here then is a guide to some of the places to find those treats and traditions from home that make the holidays feel like the holidays.
Eat, drink …
The demise of National Azabu may have left some well-heeled central Tokyo expats in a pinch for fancy groceries. All of the following supermarkets, however, have branches around Tokyo and will have a variety of cheeses and party foods as well as specialty items for Christmas.
Precce is taking orders for prepared foods, including roast beef made from Japanese wagyu, whole roasted chickens, paella and chicken potpies as well as appetizer platters.
Nissin World Delicatessen will add whole turkeys and fixings for stuffing to its large meat shop, Meat Rush, which carries hard-to-find meats imported from around the world.
Kinokuniya‘s “Heartful Christmas” has several traditional-style Christmas decorations, including a festive wreath, plus five different kinds of German stollen cakes www.super-kinokuniya.jp (Japanese).
Eataly in Daikanyama has a high-end selection of Italian meats, cheeses and wines as well as the original Panettone, wrapped for giving and available online as well as in the store.
Seijoishi import-grocery store has delicious stocking stuffers like big and small candy canes, Walkers Christmas shortbread cookies and small versions of the soft, sweet Italian breads Pandoro and Panettone.
Yamaya, in addition to imported foods, has reasonably priced imported wines, including the sweet-sparkling Asti Moscato that some Italians insist on for pairing with Pandoro and Panettone. For purchase in person or online. www.yamaya.jp/shop (Japanese).
Benoit, a French pastry shop, has Buche de Noel, the chocolatey French roll-cake also known as a yule log. They are taking reservations by phone or online now for in-store pick-up between Dec 22-25. www.benoit-tokyo.com/en/news/index.html#n5 (English).
Cravings, a caterer in Azubu Juban will cook up a family meal like you remember it to eat in your own home. Their most-requested Christmas specialties include honey-glazed ham and leg of lamb, as well as homemade pies and cookies. cravings.jp (English).
… and be merry
Trim the tree and make your own gingerbread house: Ikea is selling live trees for ¥1,990 and then giving a store credit of the same amount when the tree is returned to the store to be recycled. They also have a decent range of other festive decorations as well as a gingerbread house kit. And while the kids are covered in frosting, sip some Glogg, Swedish hot mulled wine.
Deck the halls: Home-furnishing stores such as FrancFranc, Cibone and Tokyu Hands have had Christmas tree decorations on display for weeks already and they all have good selections.
Traditional tinsel garlands and colored glass balls are all in place, as well as decorations you’re unlikely to remember from your childhood, such as a ceramic kewpie doll dressed up as Santa available in FrancFranc stores.
Cibone stocks just as quirky, but more design-conscious ornamental pieces, including romantic snowglobes and Christmas matryoshka dolls, while Tokyu Hands has a wide range of blinking LED lights and artificial Christmas trees from table-top to living-room size, not to mention a wide range of gift ideas.
Don’t forget to write: Christmas cards, from simple Hallmark trees to only-in-Japan scenes of Santa flying over snowy Kyoto landmarks, are available in stationery emporium Itoya, as well as in the stationery sections of department store Loft. Itoya also has a printing service where you can choose a design and one of two Christmas messages for your card and have them printed in bulk.
To see Loft’s gift range online: www.loft.co.jp/topics/2011christmas.
Go to a show: There are eight versions of the “The Nutcracker” being staged in Tokyo this year. It would be hard to miss! Two recommendations would have to be the National Ballet of Japan at the New National Theater in Tokyo (showing Dec. 17-25) and at K-Ballet Company at the Akasaka ACT Theater in Tokyo.
TNT: www.nntt.jac.go.jp/english/ballet/e20000448_ballet.html (English).
ACT: www.tbs.co.jp/act. (Japanese).
Count down the days: Advent calendars, from nostalgic cheap paper ones with milk chocolate inside to handsome wooden sets, are available at Kaldi Coffee Farm stores and Tokyu Hands. Muji also sells a simple Christmas-tree calendar of boxes, on the back of which you can draw your own picture to create a surprise for the family.
Listen to every pop Christmas hit of the last 20 years: Available non-stop at any cafe and retail outlet in Japan, from now until New Year’s, free of charge.