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A very Japanese Christmas

53 Comments
By E H Fields

On the surface, Christmas in Japan seems very much like Christmas back home; from the gross commercialism to the fat guy dressed like a can a coke. A walk around town doesn't raise too many suspicions that Christmas is going to be any different.

My first Christmas day in Japan I spent at work with pangs of homesickness rumbling in my belly and a powerful urge to get drunk. To add to things, my brain donor of a boss was climbing the walls because the embassies he had planned to visit that day were on holiday. No matter of explaining could satisfy the deep feeling sense of injustice harbored by the angry 6-year-old boy trapped in the body of a 60-year-old man that he was. "But, this is Japan," he growled at regular intervals throughout the afternoon.

Just like everywhere else, Christmas in Japan is a marathon. It starts a few weeks before Halloween and slowly gathers pace as the days get shorter and colder. People rush around making sure that they've got the food in for the big meal – which in Japan means reserving a bucket of fried chicken down to the very hour you are going to go to the store and pick it up. Try walking in off the street to buy a combo meal when the Colonel's lot are at their busiest; the shocked "Don't you know it's Christmas" look you'll get from the staff are truly priceless. And let's not forget cake: Where would Christmas be without a delicious sponge cake topped with flavorless, out-of-season strawberries?

Whereas back home, Christmas tends to be thought of as a time for family, the supposed "romance" of Christmas is given heavy play in Japan. Now personally, I am entirely in favor of this widely accepted belief that associates a large, bearded white bloke with romance but that is another story. What amuses me is this romantic notion of Christmas that manifests itself in girls expecting expensive presents from their boyfriends.

One recent piece of research in fashion magazine revealed two interesting points; on average, girls expected their boyfriends to spend five times as much on buying them a present than they were going to spend on their boyfriends and nearly 60% of girls were not planning to buy their boyfriends a present. To me that's just brilliant. Why stop at five times more? Let's push the boat out; I'm prepared to spend a hundred times more especially if I'm getting nothing in return. Is it time to start worrying about the standard of mathematics education in Japanese schools? Or should we just keep quiet because it'll cost us more in the long run?

But more than anything else, what really surprised me on my first few Christmases in this country was the fact that Christmas Day is nothing more than an afterthought – like going to sleep on Christmas Eve and waking up on Boxing Day, Christmas Day is a huge anti-climax.

For some inexplicable reason, the annual "All-Japan Christmas Marathon" finishes outside of the stadium; there's no standing ovation and no victory lap because everything gets tidied away until next year before the big day arrives.

In Japan, Christmas Eve is king. That's when all the food is eaten and presents given and not the day after. Come midnight on the 24th and all the Christmas bunting is taken down in the shops and replaced by New Year displays. Given that Japan does not have a significantly large Christian community, perhaps this is not surprising and nobody can really expect the country that invented White Day (you'll have to wait until March 14 for that) to pass up on an opportunity to sell some more stuff to the unsuspecting public.

So to everyone, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas Eve, and lads don't be stingy, eh!

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

53 Comments
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Christmas in Japan is the best time to go visit your home country

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I'm hanging sashimi on the tree this year.

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Many years ago, my first vacation out of Japan was to the Land of Smiles. Whether wending my way through the crowded and fragrant streets of Bangkok or quaffing a (damn cheap)cold beer on the golden sands in Koh Samui, there was nary a sign of Christmas and Lo, all was good. Travel should be like that.

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Japanese people do not care about the real meaning of Christmas. They do not go to church and do not believe in Christ anyway as well. They are just enjoying the season from end of year to New Year. Christmas seems to be Santa festival in Japan.

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The KFC thing is the oddest. I bet McDonalds or any of the other fast food chains, wish they could get a huge sales increase for doing absolutely nothing, every Dec 24.

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It`s definitely a different feeling than home but I must admit that the light displays in Japan are incredible.

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Heh heh heh, "a hundred times nothing", that's priceless. The other option is to do what I did this year, got a 50,000 yen jacket from the missus before declaring "kotoshi kurisumasu nashi!"

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Heh...the KFC Christmas Chicken Special. Wow, sentimental moment alert.

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These "look how weird Xmas is in Japan" articles are always very bemusing.

The main point is: CHRISTMAS IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT!!

If you are waiting for Xmas to fall into your lap then good luck to you. However, if you plan your Xmas with near ones and dear ones then you'll have a wonderful time, wherever you are.

The Christmas illuminations in Japan are lovely, and free!! See them with your date, your kids, your friends... Make some mulled wine, put it in a flask, buy some stollen cake... a fun evening under the Christmas lights.

Japan does actually have some church services. There are some very nice services around Christmas. Choir concerts, too.

If you live near a big city you should be able to find turkey, Christmas pudding and all the trimmings at one of the big international supermarkets.

Ikea is selling real Xmas trees... and if you take them back after Xmas they'll give you a shopping voucher equivalent to the same amount! Free trees! WTG Japan! The trees themselves are small but maybe that's best over here ;-)

If you're working on Xmas day (as I will be) it's none too great but, hey, lots of people back home work on Xmas day too. I have two close relatives working as health professionals who regularly have to work all through Xmas.

Finally, the fact that Japan is a buddhist/shinto-ist country gives some idea that it won't be quite the same as back home.

But my advice is quit whining, plan your festive activities in advance, make a charity donation and drink as much as possible :-) You'll have a great time.

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One more point about Xmas concerts... if you live near a university then very often the music society will be putting on a Christmas concert and anyone is welcome and it's free. They usually put up posters in libraries, supermarkets, etc near the university. You might be surprised at how good these concerts are.

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whining? who stepped on the cat's tail?

to paraphrase isn't Japan again 'off... to impose Japanese culture' on Christmas? and having a laugh at it all is a lot less painless than listening to a group of bow-tied university students singing Stille Nacht.

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Japanese people do not care about the real meaning of Christmas.

Nor do most people of all other nationalities.

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having a laugh at it all

"having a laugh at it" is all fine and dandy... I do the same myself.

But the joke is on you if all you can do is poke fun and whine about how different Xmas is in Japan compared to home, and put no effort into making it a great one.

Actually, looking at recent reports from the UK about the New Forest Lapland, I've recently started thinking that Xmas might be better in Japan.

I just remembered another good point about Xmas in Japan... get on a train and head for skiing in the mountains. Better still, rent a cottage in the mountains with some friends... and act out Wham's "Last Christmas" video ;-)

Anyway, the basic message is: CHRISTMAS IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT... so make a brilliant one this year, wherever you are.

Merry Christmas all!

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I guess my reaction to this article can be summed up: here in Japan, strawberries are not out of season. They are just coming into season (at least where I am in Shizuoka). I'm assuming the author is in Tokyo, which is not so far away...

My point being, if you're getting flavorless strawberries (or flavorless Christmas), then you are looking in the wrong places. The year end season in Japan is wonderful. But it is not a western Christmas. Enjoy your time here for what it is and leave your expectations of Christmas for when you aren't.

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I still prefer the Japanese way of ruining Christmas to the hellfire-and-brimstone foreign evangelists who stand around the shopping districts of Tokyo with their monotone megaphone messages about how everyone's going to hell if they don't convert.

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On the surface, Christmas in Japan seems very much like Christmas back home

Oh come off it - it's nothing like, even on the surface.

People rush around making sure that they’ve got the food in for the big meal

No they don't. They order a cream cake with strawberries on top and drive through KFC. They're too busy preparing for oshogatsu to bother making Christmas a 'big meal'. It's greasy chicken and sponge cake. (not chez cleo)

Anyway, the basic message is: CHRISTMAS IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT... so make a brilliant one this year, wherever you are. Merry Christmas all!

I second that!

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I second that!

Great minds think alike ;-)

No turkey in the Cleo household I assume! Perhaps more of us should try a healthy vegetarian Christmas... Have a great one!

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Xmas is my own worst day of the year in Japan, I truly dread it. I give a present to my wife, which she loves, then we meet after work and go out to dinner ... that is it. For some reason she really loves to get a present on Xmas day, even though I give many other presents during the year. Xmas is just truly lacking here, to be surrounded by Xmas but not the Xmas spirit we so enjoy back home.

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While on R&R back in the early 50s I was fortunate to spend Christmas & New Years in Osaka. The streets were quite decorated and so were the caberets, music blaring Christmas and New Years eve. Probably the most memorable holidays of my life. When on foreign land enjoy it. Be human and not just American.

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I vote for Japan. In NA there is nothing like being in the thick of it elbow to elbow with the heard, all eager shoppers but then there's the stress. The constant bombardment of advertisers and media telling us how we need to be perfect, how we need to be happy. Uh.. ok.. how we need to be nice. Everybody's busy, or pretending to be. Everyone is under stress yet everyone's supposed to be happy? It's just a day.

Christmas comes from the heart and it can be any day. It is what you make of it.

If I miss family or friends this time of year experience reassures me that it's much much better to go visit and spend the real quality time at any other time of the year. And that's what I do.

It is peculiar in Japan how at the stroke of midnight Christmas Eve all the decorations can disappear and suddenly.. they're all New Years decorations! That's cool! :-)

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imacat;

These "look how weird Xmas is in Japan" articles are always very bemusing.

The main point is: CHRISTMAS IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT!!

Well said in both of your posts!

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I thought it was a love holiday for young people. J-GFs are supposed to give home made sweets to their perspective SOs.

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Japanese people do not care about the real meaning of Christmas.

Christmas is a religious festival, not about the coca cola company's invention of santa. Last time I checked, 98% of the population are not christian and therefore do not understand or care about the real meaning of christmas.

For those of you who are a little slow - Christmas ie The Mass of Christ.

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I hate Christmas in Japan. Hate it. Especially that nasty strawberry cake. Back homr for Christmas.

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I've always spend Christmas in the mountains skiing. With a girl. It's great: the snow, the food, the hot spring. And guess what: it's even cheap, because it's Christmas

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Can't quite decide which I prefer - Christmas in Japan, or Christmas in NZ where it's warm (doesn't feel right, somehow).

Anyway, this year my parents are visiting us over Christmas, so it'll feel special whatever happens.

Am working over New Year - have to get up at 5am on New Year's Day, so no more than a wee dram on NYE. Still, at time and a half and a day in lieu, I'm not unhappy!

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I don't see any comments about a most distinctive and wonderful custom of Japanese Christmas, so here goes:

Nearly every hotel room across the nation is fully booked, up to a year in advance for Christmas Eve. Restaurants often have two settings for dinner, after each the room is cleared for the next batch of couples. Couples meet, dine, exchange exactly one gift, then retreat to their hotel for makin' whoopie. Any respectable Japanese female asked on a date on Christmas eve knows this is the custom so are selective in accepting. Pretty cool...

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Christmas comes from the heart and it can be any day.

This year it's on the 30th, since the kids won't be home until the 29th. Bit of a squash before Hogmanay, but we'll manage.

And I don't mind Santa having time and a half and a day in lieu for the extra trip.

:-)

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Yes, it's great to bring in the festive season with a bang; don't knock it, it's just different. Enjoy!

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imacat, cleo, yang yong, agreed.

the only thing i hate about xmas in japan is seasonal whingeing by certain members of the ex-pat population. i have a blast with my family, roast lamb from costco and all (sorry imacat).

imacat: CHRISTMAS IS WHAT YOU MAKE IT!! here, here! but to expand on that, LIFE is what you make it. if you came all the way to Japan to laugh at and criticize the locals, you sure aren't making the most of it. Maybe Mr. Fields et al should think about making a change of attitude their New Year's resolution.

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I enjoyed every Christmas I spent in Japan, and a lot of that was because it was different from back home. I know a lot of others have already said it and it should be common sense, but who in their right mind would expect Christmas to be the same in Japan? Enjoy the difference.

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sydenham;

if you came all the way to Japan to laugh at and criticize the locals, you sure aren't making the most of it. Maybe Mr. Fields et al should think about making a change of attitude their New Year's resolution.

Indeed - it's a defence mechanism for some. They try to convince themselves that they're smugly superior to the locals by criticizing what they see around them in order to avoid realizing their own self-imposed misery.

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Great funny article!Xmas here sucks but its still 50 times better then new years here.

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Japan is an interesting country indeed! Most Japanese are not Christians but they go along with Santa, the gifts the merry moods in their own way, which is cool. Only a few Japanese are actually Catholic, etc..and do go to church and actually do celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. How many of us gaijins are not Shintoists, Buddhists etc..but go to the local shrine etc..on the the New Year?

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Christmas is what you make of it - definitely YES.

My little boy goes to a Kindergarten, and this Saturday they had Christmas performance on stage in Cityhall. The smaller children doing some dances, and the older children making a very nice performance of the Christmas story in the bible.

And this Sunday I went with our Baby girl to the catholic church in the nearest bigger city. For me it was a bit exhausting, but she had fun.

The difference to Christmas at home: It is a good idea to understand the prayers in Japanese and/or English.

And when the author E H Fields claims that in Japan "Christmas Eve is king ... well same in several European countries". That should be OK.

Happy Christmas to all.

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Some must have read a different article from me. Nothing negative or whining in there, just celebrating differences. But the best thing about Christmas here, as already pointed out, is the sex. Save up during the year, buy that present and jump in bed. The Japanese love their sex and Christmas is a time of giving. Enjoy!

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"Nor do most people of all other nationalities."

Then they have no business chiming in.

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It is actually quite common in a number of Catholic cultures across Europe fo Christmas Eve to be the big day (generally an evening meal and then wait until midnight to open presents etc) and Christmas Day to be played down a little Recovery, leftovers etc). So here not that remarkable. As for presents, what J-bird doeswn't like a present - specially an expensive, Chrissy wrapped one?

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UnagiDon -- or, those supposed "whiners" are the only ones actually capable of seeing Japan for what it really is, and don't have to try to say that it is special or different -- because they aren't stuck here teaching English for minimum wage, and therefore have to rationalize their life. And, Christmas is a perfect example of that. All you folks are saying how great it is to: have to make a dinner reservation, book and pay for a hotel room, and buy an expensive present -- just to have sex. That's not Christmas, or even romance. It's simply meeting Japanese girl's expectations, because otherwise, they won't put out. If that is what makes Christmas in Japan special -- something to be celebrated -- I'll pass. Real people, in real relationships, don't need that kind of phony crap, wrapped around Christmas, in order to enjoy a physical relationship. But, then again, Japanese couples have like the lowest rate of sex in the world -- like 43 times a year -- so maybe they must invent an excuse to get passionate. If that's something to celebrate in your mind, then go for it.

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A very Japanese Christmas: This Myth is Western not Eastern. East just copies because of boredom and lack of imagination. There is not such animal.

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herefornow-- firstly, have you actually experienced this "Christmas hotel booking for sex" thing or are you just going by the sensationalist rumors? I have been here for 11 years and not yet met one Japanese or foreign person who has had this experience...not a one. secondly, none of the foreigners I know who have been here the length of time i have make minimum wage. that's why they're still here. i think you're referring more to the kind of people who come here for short periods of time.

Seriously, if you're going to write a comment, or commentary like mr. Fields above, I have just 2 requests: 1) base it on more than just rumor, false stereotypes or trashy magazine fiction, 2) be informative, and tell us something new. I don't like to read the same articles year after year, just by different writers. indeed, it seems like people have forgotten the origin of the word "news."

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Well I'm here, for now, and I think everybody is.. "special" It's that time of year :-) And everybody's Christmas can be special too ;-)

My first few years here it was bizarre but that's the beauty of it. It is a challenge. To look at Christmas in a completely different light. In NA you almost can't. People would think you had rocks in your head. If Christmas has been stolen it's by the marketing machine over there which switches into super-hyper-drive. It's mind control. Wasn't Boxing Day a holiday at one time? A quiet day of rest? Turkey sandwiches? Kicking back with kin? Now most of my family SKATTERS! to overcrowded malls. And I have to go there if I want to spend time with them.

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sydenham -- You must not get out much, or maybe I just hit too close to home. I was speaking to a friend and business colleague just yesterday about this very subject. He has been involved with a Japanese gal for many years, but normally returns home every year for Christmas. Every year, without fail, this causes a huge rift with his gal, because he is not here to "celebrate" Christmas eve with the dinner and hotel deal. But, if you think all this is "stereotype" as you say, why don't you pick up the phone right now and call any decent hotel and see if you can get a room for Wednesday night, or any good restaurant? They'll laugh at you. Sorry, but "sensationalist rumors" don't last 11 years. This is Christmas in Japan, whether you like it or not, and all the pretty lights they put up doesn't mask that fact. It is all superficial and materialistic, like much of this wonderful society you seem so much in love with. Or just stuck with. So, if you are going to post, my one request for you is to be objective and really look at what goes on here, not the Yokoso Japan version of this country.

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herefornow says Christmas is superficial and materialistic. Why cry? Make it the day you want it to be. Some people do cos-play, some like hotels. So what?

I once paid a fortune for, and fought hoards of women for one of the last Christmas cakes here one Christmas Eve on the way to meet my date. I'm glad to have had that experience but never again! There was so much Christmas junk stuck into the top of that thing.. Santa, elves, part of a house..

It's evolving, always has been. Before it was the outrageously expensive dinner shows. Now not so much. Love hotels used to be seedy and tacky and that's mostly changed. For the young, as far as I can tell, it's always been about the date. Maybe this says something about sydenham's age (?) or maybe the outstanding people he's hanging out with.

At any rate, may peace be yours.

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Christmas Eve is mostly an occasion for some young people still enthused in shallow dreams and libidos to date and mate and for children to have fun and eat cakes. For others in general, "Merry Christmas" sounds simply out of place and even silly at this busiest time of the year, though the melody of Jingle Bells was being played on the street this year with lyrics that promote sales of the year-end jumbo lottery.

Sorry to say the real big day is not coming on 25th over here. Christmas Eve is not king either. Standing ovation or victory lap or whatever is reserved for the Watch Night bell ringing to let the old year pass away and subsequent New Year visit to a shrine or temple. The feelings we have on Omisoka or the last day of the year might be comparable to what people in the West or Christendom feel on what Mr. Fields call the big day.

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herefornow-

Commercialism and materialism are rampant everywhere. I learned that lesson in grade school. It's nothing new. Get over it. I'm 37, married with 2 kids and happy living in Japan. Stranger things have happened. Your friend's girlfriend is superficial. Plenty of my ex-girlfriends in both Canada and Japan were superficial too. I didn't marry them. Your friend needs a new GF.

Japanese who stay at hotels on Xmas eve are a minute fraction of the overall population, and only confirm the fact that in Japan, as in every other country in the world, there are materialistic, superficial people. Again, this is something you and Mr. Fields above need to get over, and not make more out of than it really is. Of course, you only really need to get over it if you want to stop focussing on the negative and make the most of your life. It's a choice everyone has to make in their life. That's another lesson I learned a long time ago.

Enjoy Christmas, and enjoy Christmas in Japan. Lots of us do. There's no reason you can't too.

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Interesting comments! Merry Christmas to all.

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Maybe next year I'll be lucky enough to enjoy X'MAS the Japanese way...Hoping hoping hoping so! :-D Merry Christmas everyone.

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Christmas is undeniably about the birth of Christ. Christ is a symbol of many heroic things, and all the characteristics that go with them.

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Nah, it's a celebration of life in the midst of winter.

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Funny, I just finished reading this article last night and this morning I got a cell phone email from my fiancee with a picture of the homemade chicken meal she was electronically offering me. Cute....I had nice chuckle and was reminded of just why I love that dear Japanese heart of hers. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Hahahaaa, I love the comments on Christmas being materialistic in Japan, my sides are aching...American Christmas ISN'T!? Parents getting into scuffles to buy one of THE toy the kids just have to have every year, none of you saw that diamond commercial originating in the US where men who gave their wives the wrong presents (not diamonds)were condemned to a limbo-like 'dog house'?

Japanese Christmas customs come from Europe, presents being opened on the 24th, and cake being eaten. As most homes don't have ovens, and oven cooking is not prevalent in the average Japanese home, it's fried chicken and not roast chicken, and turkey has never been a part of the culture. Why'd you leave home, if you can't stand things being different?

Anyone I said Merry Christmas to this week has been pleased,lots of smiles as the greeting is returned. Haven't been bitten once.

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herefornow;

UnagiDon -- or, those supposed "whiners" are the only ones actually capable of seeing Japan for what it really is, and don't have to try to say that it is special or different

Thank you for illustrating the point I was trying to make.

Seeing Japan through rose-coloured glasses is bad, seeing Japan through crap-cloured glasses and pretending that you have some superior insight is way worse.

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