Thursday, December 24, 2015

Close but no cigar

An interesting part of living in Japan is seeing that its basically not that different. Big things are extremely similar- teenagers act like teenagers, there are restaurant chains and shopping malls, fried food and pastries are always popular, etc. Sometimes its the small things that really let you know that this is definitely not the US.

And today that small thing is Christmas, because here it is kind of a small thing. Christmas hasn't been celebrated in Japan very long, its still pretty new, and since there are few Christians in Japan it isn't celebrated with any of the religious traditions some associate with the holiday. So baby Jesus has no place in Japanese Christmas, but Santa ain't holding on so strong either. From my classes I gather that children know the broad idea of Santa- he brings presents on Christmas, wears red and white, has some reindeer, but thats about it. I heard one song the kids practicing say that Santa lived in Greenland. They don't know about Rudolph or the other reindeer, or the North Pole or even the elves. They're not all familiar with how Santa comes through your chimney and only a handful know about Santa's naughty and nice list but none of them have heard about getting coal if you're bad. They know most of the big Christmas songs but when I asked about Christmas movies the only one they mentioned was Home Alone. Pretty funny actually.

probably the biggest tree we've seen, big tree game weak

Most people have a Christmas tree and most business have Christmas decrations and offer Christmas themed goods, but no one has Christmas lights on their house. And they don't have stockings either. And, maybe the biggest bummer to me, theres no Christmas section in the store full of lights, ornaments, decorations and wrapping paper. I've seen some decorations and like two kinds of wrapping paper in the dollar store, but those were really dinky and lame. For some reason I find myself really missing picking out my favorite wrapping paper and matching ribbon or seeing Hallmark ornaments or anything like that.

Christmas lights are called "illuminations" in Japan

Actually I might say that Christmas here feels a lot like St.Patrick's Day in the US. Some people go all out but most people see the decorations, wear some green, and let it pass by without note. One difference, however, is that Japan has some pretty solid food traditions for Christmas. On Christmas day just about everyone eats fried chicken and Christmas cake. Fried chicken as a Christmas tradition started in the 70s after an extremely successful KFC ad convinced Japanese people that fried chicken was the way to celebrate this holiday, and its stuck ever since. Many people order their chicken in advance. And Christmas cake is a long standing tradition in Japan that really gained some staying power when mass production made cakes affordable for everyone. It is traditionally a sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberries, but many varieties of cake are offered today.

Tokyo Sky Tree lit up like a... well, tree

As far as celebrating the holiday, I've been told its more of a holiday for couples than families. On Christmas Eve many couples celebrate Valentines Day style, with a nice dinner and a night out, maybe with some Christmas cake for dessert. Many children get presents on Christmas morning, but one teacher told me that its common for parents to put presents by the child's bed rather than under the tree. Not many people, if any, have a Christmas party, but most eat fried chicken on Christmas day. New Years day is celebrated in a way that we would celebrate Christmas- people spend time with family and visit temples and have large meals together, so Christmas is more like a fun small event leading up to that big holiday.

This year Kris and I are celebrating Christmas in a more Japanese way. Kris will be cooking up some fried chicken and we'll have a small cake for dessert. We have some presents to open, and we'll go out and see some sights. For the most part, though, Christmas is passing us by without too much commotion. I'm a bit bummed, and it feels kinda weird, but we're living in a different country and trying (trying) to do as the Romans do. Maybe for New Years we'll go all out.


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