I lived for nine months in Strasbourg, “The Capital of Christmas,” on the border of France and Germany, so I am well-acquainted with Christmas markets. And I lived with an Alsatian host family who made honest-to-goodness Alsatian home cooking — so I know (and crave) good sauerkraut when I see it.
Therefore, when I heard that there are German Christmas Markets in Tokyo — well, you better believe that I all but reserved a day to visit. (And then for the weeks leading up to the actual day, I salivated at the thought of all the mulled wine).
I’ll say one thing, right at the start, which we all knew would be true: they couldn’t compare to the real Christmas Markets of Germany and France. My goodness, I mean, this is what they are competing with in Strasbourg and Colmar alone:
And I don’t even have personal experience at the markets in Germany, which are rumored to be the best of the best! So clearly, the German markets in Tokyo have to step up their game if they ever want to get on France’s and Germany’s level.
Luckily, when I visited the markets a few weeks ago, I didn’t go into the day with grand illusions of Strasbourg in Tokyo. All I was hoping for was some good sauerkraut, some sausage, some mulled wine, and–if at all possible–some spätzle.
There were three main Christmas Markets advertised in Tokyo — the one in Roppongi Hills, the one at Soramachi (Tokyo Sky Tree), and the Tokyo Christmas Market at Hibiya Park (this last one had the backing of the German Embassy). My friend and I decided to visit the latter two, as Roppongi is apparently a super-touristy, slightly kitchy, area of Tokyo.
First up was the Hibiya Park market.
My ranking: two thumbs up. This is the market with the backing of the German Embassy, and I found their food to be pretty authentic. We tried mulled wine from three different stalls, feasted on sauerkraut and sausage, and even tried some beer-batter french fries (so crispy, so delicious!). No spätzle, but I figured that was too much to ask for, anyway.
The Hibiya Park market was rather crowded, and not super big, and it didn’t have a lot of crafts or decorations to buy, but despite all of that, it had a little of the magic of the Strasbourg markets, so I really enjoyed it.
Next up were the Soramachi markets at Tokyo Sky Tree.
My ranking: mehh. Okay, so this market was even smaller than the one at Hibiya. I didn’t really find the food here to be authentic German food. It definitely looked more like tourist-trap fare. And it was a bit more expensive, too, so we didn’t really eat anything (instead, we went into the Sky Tree shopping mall and had a fantastic Korean dinner). However, the one thing this market had going for it was the “illumination” / light show that went off every thirty minutes. It was pretty cool, so that makes it worth checking out if you’re in the area.
I wish I had had an opportunity to visit some of the other Christmas markets as well, but we were only in Tokyo for the day. I’m pretty sure the one in Roppongi is bigger and more German-craft-oriented than the two I visited, so maybe check out the Hibiya market and Roppongi market if you happen to be in Tokyo around Christmastime.
Unfortunately, all the Christmas markets in Tokyo ended on Christmas day. But I’m already looking forward to visiting them again next year, if only for some sauerkraut and mulled wine!