To begin this piece on Christmas in Tokyo, I attempted to add to what I knew by sending out a request for recommendations to a number of long-term expat residents – usually a surefire way of getting ideas.
This time, every single person who responded either pined for the Western locales they knew from days of yore or quipped that the best place to celebrate the holiday in Japan was New York (or London, or Miami, or Munich, or Monowi, Nebraska—you get the idea).
Indeed, Tokyo is not seen as a Christmas destination. For the parents of young kids, it’s a time to buy toys, which is a lot less endearing when not experienced through the hoary brume of a Burl Ives record. For young couples, it’s almost identical to Valentine’s Day in the Anglophone world. In this light, my expat friends’ response isn’t entirely unfair.
Well, put on your Bing Crosby, your Nat King Cole, or even your Chipmunks or your Percy Faith if that’s what floats your boat, and get into the spirit, friend. There is hope.
DECK THE HALLS
The giants Costco (http://www.costco.co.jp/p/?lang=en) (¥4,200 annual membership required) and Ikea carry a variety of holiday items, including real fir trees, Ikea’s being a particularly good deal at ¥1,990 plus a coupon for the same amount if you bring the tree back.
In-town favorites Tokyu Hands (hands.net) and Don Quijote have numerous locations and an array of artificial trees, ornaments, lights, and decorations ranging from classic green saplings to huge tacky light-up giant Santas to items best-suited to decking the halls of your bordello. The always handy Foreign Buyers’ Club (www.fbcusa.com) can also help with décor; they’re closed for the holidays but they are great for other times around the year.
For those of you of a creative bent, Yuzawaya (store.shopping.yahoo.co.jp/yuzawaya, Japanese only) and Shimojima (www.shimojima.co.jp) carry myriad supplies for the craft-inclined – from wreaths to cloth by the yard to wrapping paper and holiday decorations.
NOW FOR THE FOOD
If you’re being traditional and cooking at home, you’re in luck. Many of the dishes you love are just as possible here as at home. Check the aforementioned FBC or The Meat Guy (www.themeatguy.jp) to order a ham or turkey. Both also carry appropriate sides and pies. Niku no Hanamasa also carries whole turkeys and hams. Import mini-market chain Seijo-Ishii (www.seijoishii.com) carries a respectable assortment of holiday dishes, including turkeys (by order), pie crusts, mixes, and more. Import markets Euroseed and Jupiter, a relative newcomer to Tokyo, but long popular in the Chubu and Kansai areas, have similar offerings. Of course, the good old depachika (department store basement) near you is sure to carry a selection of seasonal items, especially desserts, albeit at a price.
It’s worth keeping your eyes peeled, too. In years past, roasted turkeys have popped up for sale in locations as unlikely as fashion retailer Comme ça du Mode.
Tokyo is a veritable paradise of date spots around Christmas time. Virtually any restaurant with even a vaguely Western menu, and many without, will offer some kind of Christmas course for couples.
If you and your date are looking for something special, the city’s top tier hotels are a good place to start. The Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay Hotel (www.sheratontokyobay.co.jp) has Christmas options, and special room packages are also available, from the “Joyful” or “Shiny” Christmases (¥20,000–¥25,000) to the “Christmas Dream” in the Presidential Suite (¥300,000).
In addition to its “Stylish Christmas” illuminations and décor, the Hilton Tokyo Bay (www.hiltontokyobay.jp) offers room packages and a wide variety of dining options, including a World Christmas Dessert Buffet in the lobby lounge (¥3,200).
The Ekki Bar & Grill at the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi (http://www.fourseasons.com/tokyo/dining/) offers a Christmas Lunch for ¥6,000, and a Christmas dinner for ¥18,000.
The Park Hyatt (tokyo.park.hyatt.com) offers a selection of cakes and gifts for the holidays.
The Grand Hyatt’s eight restaurants (http://restaurants.tokyo.grand.hyatt.com/christmas.html) all offer different Christmas meal plans during the holidays, and a portion of the proceeds will go to support Tohoku children’s charities.
Stylish Swedish establishment Aquavit (www.aquavit-japan.com) has an artful holiday menu on offer. For a more relaxed atmosphere, Kokubunji’s Lighthouse (www.lighthouse-tokyo.com) is offering a Christmas dinner, in addition to their fine collection of regular and guest beers and ales.
Of course, the much-touted four course Christmas dinner at Wine Bar Davis (03-3440-6007), which boasts roast goose and British Christmas pudding, is available for one sitting on the 23rd and 26th and two sittings each night on the 24th and 25th.
For those who want something more casual, the Pink Cow (thepinkcow.com) will be serving its customary popular Christmas dinner (¥5,200) on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. One of the highlights is that the Pink Cow’s holiday feast includes vegetarian-friendly offerings. If a communal feel, tofurkey, and some live entertainment appeal to you, this would be the place to go.
Good Honest Grub (www.goodhonestgrub.com) also serves up a traditional meal, with vegetarian-friendly options, in a casual atmosphere. This has long been a favorite not only with hungry expats, but with those interested in organic food or in knowing whence their fare hails. For Canadian Christmas Week, they offer a Christmas lunch for ¥3,500 (kids ¥2,000) and a dinner for ¥4,500 (kids ¥3,000). Make your reservations by phone at 03-3797-9877.
The ever-popular Hobgoblin (www.hobgoblin.jp) has a three-course ample Christmas dinner available on Christmas Day (¥5,000), and offers a roast turkey plate for ¥1,200 and homemade eggnog for ¥500.
Delivering in is also an option: get out delivery service Maishoku for a variety of different cuisines, from American to Vietnamese.
Garrett is a regular blogger at Japan Eats.