Welcome to our first Harney Holiday Desteanation, Tokyo! If you’ve had the opportunity to actually visit Tokyo, you know what a spectacular and special experience it is. It is a global powerhouse of a city, with breathtaking modern architecture juxtaposed with ancient traditions.
Tokyo is, of course, Japan’s capital and one of Japan’s 47 prefectures, consisting of 23 central city wards and multiple cities, towns and villages. It is one of the world’s most populous major cities, with an estimated population of just over 14 million. By comparison, the population of New York City is 8.8 million. The Greater Tokyo area, however, had an estimated 37.5 million residents in 2018. How’d you like that rush hour?!
Prior to 1868, Tokyo was known as Edo. Originally a small castle town in the 16th century, it became the location of a feudal government and, a few decades later, had grown into one of the world’s most populous cities. It was renamed Tokyo (“eastern capital”) after the emperor moved there from Kyoto in 1868. To this day, local Tokyo cuisine is referred to as “Edo-mae” which means “in front of Edo,” referring to the former Edo Bay, now Tokyo Bay.
Tokyo is renowned for its cuisine, so no trip there is complete without sampling several signature dishes. Sushi is a must, of course, along with a healthy helping of wasabi. Soba noodles are happily slurped in restaurants across Tokyo. Tempura is something that we’re familiar with here in the U.S., but if you go to Tokyo (which has been widely recognized by Michelin for its fine dining, even more restaurants than Paris), try some more traditional dishes like chankonabe, monjayaki and Tokyo sweets like ningyoyaki, which are small red bean paste-filled cakes shaped like dolls, cartoon characters or other shapes. And of course the dish made famous in the U.S. by one episode of Friends: unagi. It really is eel and not an extra awareness of your surroundings as Ross insisted!
My dad, Mike, and I both love visiting Japan, where we source some wonderful teas. Read about my dad’s Japan travels in his Mike Harney Spills the Tea on Japan blog post. You can also learn about the beautiful Japanese tea traditions in our Japanese Tea Ceremony blog. And soon there will be a new Harney & Sons flagship store right in the heart of Japan! We will keep you posted on that.
As I just mentioned, my dad loves going to Japan to source great Japanese teas. Here are some examples of teas we are proud to carry and some products you can use in creating your own Japanese tea ceremony or whipping a mug of matcha.
Matcha is a very special tea in its own right. While it has been around Japan for centuries, it has only gained popularity in the west in the last couple of decades. We’ve laid out everything you need to know about this green tea in our matcha blog post. Meanwhile, you can grab some cool matcha tools to literally whip up your own cuppa green goodness!
Did you know that Christmas is very popular in Japan? While only about one percent of the population is Christian, the Japanese have put their own spin on Christmas that is quite unique.
For instance, one fascinating practice is that of ordering Kentucky Fried Chicken for their holiday meal -- it’s incredibly popular! It started in the ‘70s as an idea by a Tokyo KFC store manager (who would later go on to become the CEO of KFC Japan) of putting together a “Christmas party barrel” filled with KFC chicken to fill the turkey void that existed then and now in Japan. The idea became so popular that even now, over 3.5 million Japanese families sit down to a KFC Christmas dinner. Now called “Christmas dinner packages,” they make up for one-third of KFC’s Japanese sales annually and must be ordered weeks in advance.
When they’re not busy ordering buckets of the Colonel’s finest, Tokyo residents are enjoying much of what we do at Christmas: continental-style markets with a large German influence -- think open-air Christkindlmarkt with mulled wines and beer -- shopping in festively decorated stores and malls, and enjoying mega holiday light displays. When we say “mega,” think like Godzilla-sized! Christmas light displays are a really big deal in Tokyo. Even the names tell you how spectacular they are: Yomiuri Land Jewellumination (millions of LED lights representing sparkling gems and so much more at this epic presentation); Tokyo Mega Illumination (featuring not only stunning light shows but an AR experience); Tokyo Skytree Town Magical Christmas (lights galore on and around the skyscraper as well as an ice skating rink); the Tama Centre Illumination (featuring a 50m-long Aquarium of Lights); and in a nod to this series’ worldwide popularity, Marunouchi Bright Christmas: Harry Potter, with festive wizarding world displays, like a giant tree decked out in lights resembling candles, taking over the district. This is just a short list of the holiday light displays that take over Tokyo during the holidays.
Want to bring a little Tokyo holiday into your celebrations? Other than ordering some finger lickin’ goodness, here are some traditional Japanese holiday treats you can make at home.
This very traditional dessert is simply a strawberry shortcake (made with sponge cake) covered in snowy white whipped cream and decorated with a circle of strawberries. The colors reflect those in the Japanese flag. It’s simply not Christmas in Japan without it.
For the cake:
For the meringue:
For the filling:
A perfect Japanese-themed accompaniment to a beautiful white and red Japanese Christmas Cake is green ice cream! Our thin grade matcha is perfect for whipping up this unique, creamy (and dreamy) ice cream.
Once Christmas is over, New Year’s isn’t far behind! Ozoni is a traditional Japanese New Year’s dish, a soup that contains chicken, fish, vegetables (make them pretty if you want to be more traditional), mochi and a wonderful broth. If you can’t find some of the traditional Japanese ingredients or don’t have a Japanese market in your area, look online for substitutes or see if you can order ahead of time. It’s definitely a labor of love, but worth it!
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