Christmas in Japan

Christmas time is here. If you’re Christian, it’s time to celebrate the birth of Christ. If you’re secular, it’s a celebration of family and giving. If you’re in Japan, it’s the celebration of twinkly lights.

I really don’t like Christmas in Japan. It is a hollowed out holiday here. Japan is a secular country and it is an imported holiday… I get that, but I still don’t like it. The Japanese adore the imagery though. It also collides with the bonenkai (忘年会) season, which are drinking parties held by companies and/ or friends to signify the end of the year and a chance to unwind. Christmas gives a possible theme and maybe even an additional party. The only difference between a normal party and the Christmas version is maybe a Santa hat or reindeer antlers… But that’s it. As to actual Christmas? It’s just a work day, like any other day.

The build up…. The “peace on Earth and goodwill to men”…. Family…. And that silence around town, where everyone is ideally huddled in their home with loved ones… All gone. All fake. Bereft of all meaning. I try to give it a little meaning. I give to the local Buddhist monk at the train station, I decorate, I put on Christmas music and watch a Christmas story… A lot. I also cook some Christmas recipes on Christmas Eve to get that special smell in the air. My wife is all for that, and she usually takes Christmas off. On the night of Christmas Day, I video skype my family. They mount the webcam on the wall and I watch them open presents. Last year I even waited and opened presents with them that night. I had gone to Disneyland that day (hellaciously crowded) so I was pretty beat.

New year’s on the other hand is much better in Japan. You can find a count down party if you want, but it’s more about going to a shrine and praying for good luck… It’s not a really religious event, it’s just something that they have always done for good luck. It’s more of a habit than a religious observance, but it’s fun to go and visit a different shrine every year. It’s more like a festival with all it’s food vendors and such. Stores start to kick it into high gear because the kids go and spend their new year money. I avoid shopping at that time as it is crowded and deafening, but if you’re up for an adventure, every place has a lucky bag. Basically, you buy a bag full of stuff for a flat rate price with no idea what’s inside. You just may strike it lucky and get well past your money’s worth. To me it’s just throwing money away, but some people like the gamble.

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