Laura Scarlett

History of Design

An Unusual Christmas Cake, from Mitsukoshi, 2011


Title of Dissertation: Santa, Strawberry Cake and KFC – The material culture of the contemporary Japanese christmas

The version of Christmas present in Japan seems initially to be a completely commercial phenomenon, removed entirely from the ‘real meaning’ of the occasion, and a bizarre mixture of familiar and outlandish styles. There has been comparatively little academic study into the adaptation of this now-global commercial festival to Japan. My paper offers a fresh look at the Japanese Christmas in the twenty-first century. Through other imported festivities such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day, I seek to gain an understanding of how new commercial events are adapted in Japan, and moreover what Christmas means there and the relevance of the event and its material culture to peoples’ lives.

Using a combination of oral histories and printed ephemera such as department store catalogues, menus and brochures, media such as magazines and film, I argue that the contemporary Japanese Christmas is more complex and multi-layered than much of the literature seems to suggest. Although the romance associated with Christmas in Japan is often singled out as a novel or unique aspect, I demonstrate how a significant proportion of Christmas consumption actually relates to families and children. Deeper insight into Christmas consumption is offered through a case study of one of the most ubiquitous objects of -the season: the Christmas cake.

+44 (0)7952 745 871


Supported by: The Leeke Foundation



BA, Japanese Studies, University of Sheffield, 2010


Symposium assistant, Osaka University/Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2011; Data assistant, The University of Sheffield Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO), Sheffield, 2007–9; Language assistant (volunteer), Akita International University, Akita, Japan, 2008; General assistant (volunteer), The Usher Gallery, Lincoln, 2004


Tradition Transformed: Contemporary Korean Ceramics, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2011


The University of Sheffield: Margaret Daniels Prize, 2010