Christmas ー クリスマス kurisumasu

By: Rora

Dec 26 2010

Category: Japan

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Aperture:f/2.8
Focal Length:3.85mm
ISO:160
Shutter:1/14 sec
Camera:iPhone 4

The Col. Sanders statute wearing the Santa outfit is the perfect metaphor for Japan’s relationship with Christmas. A man from an outside world, he represents something exotic (the West, fried chicken) yet familiar (in Japan, gift-giving is already an experience that borders on sacred). It’s a sort of perfect storm that led to Christmas taking such a stronghold in Japan.

If you’re a Western guy here, you might even be asked to dress up as Santa and visit schools. I met a mall Santa last winter in the States who told me he had other mall Santa friends with Santa jobs in Tokyo, where they get put up in four star hotels and paid thousands of dollars. Just because they’re white and old and fat! I haven’t seen a Japanese man dressed up as Santa, but there are plenty of Colonel Sanders statues wearing Santa suits, and I have a gaijin friend who volunteered to visit something like 5 schools dressed as Santa.

Everyone knows Christmas is much more than a day, it’s an entire season. Although I missed my friends and family yesterday and I didn’t go to church on Christmas for the first time in my entire life, the extended Christmas experience here has otherwise been strikingly similar to what I grew up with. Having red and green tinsel and Mariah Carey songs everywhere was enough to keep me missing the American Christmas experience too much. In the commercial sense, it’s all the same.

Of course, the “true meaning” of Christmas couldn’t be different between the two countries. In Japan, it’s essentially Valentines Day with different colors and emblems. Jesus is nowhere to be seen, and the religious Christmas songs have been set aside in favor of secular hits like Wham and that awful Paul McCartney song. Christmas in Japan is relief for atheists, fun for shopaholics and romantics, but a bad time for people who like a little bit of Jesus with their jingle bells.

Here’s a clip that I recorded at one of my fave department stores, which proves how inescapable Wham! covers are during the Christmas season.

Kids in Japan

I like this video. Until I found it, I didn’t realize Hello Kitty was a cartoon, and such a cute one at that. If you don’t have the patience to watch it (no subtitles, after all) I understand, but at least skip to the end to see the Pink Floyd-esque romp through the stars at around the 8 minute mark.

Christmas is not a particularly kid centered holiday in Japan. My students, who all have rather wealthy families, could probably expect to receive one or two gifts. And though their gifts may still be expensive ones, it’s still nothing like what American children from a similar social class would find under their Christmas tree. The holiday is fun for kids, but it’s not a child-centric or family-centric day the way the holiday is in America. Parents still go to work, kids still go to school (I had to work, and it was as busy a day as any other). Stores and restaurants are open, life is relatively undisturbed.

I wonder: how much do the kids here believe in Santa? In America, nobody has chimneys but everybody still knows what one is. Kids know the details of Christmas and they are encouraged to believe to the point that they invent other reasons for how Santa gets into their house to give the presents. In Japan, nobody has chimneys but I don’t think the Santa myth is as strong. We had to read a book at school about Santa, and the jist of the book is “wow, how did Santa get into the house to give all of the presents!” I asked the kids , when the book was finished, what they thought, and nobody really had an answer. Maybe they just believe in it without having to work out the logic too much.

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