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