Christmas in Japan

I was in Tokyo a few years back just before Christmas, and even though it was years ago, I still remember it clearly.

Let's clarify one thing, I'm from Cleveland, Ohio, where it starts snowing in October and continues snowing through March and into April sometimes, so being in Tokyo and enjoying 8-10 degree (45-50 degrees Fahrenheit) weather was something of a treat, although it felt nothing like Christmas. In spite of the warmish weather Christmas was obviously in the air. By far the coolest thing I saw while there was at the Kentucky Fried Chicken down the street from where we were staying. The Colonel Sanders statue they had standing sentry by the door was dressed up as a happy Santa Claus, I even had my picture taken next to him.

Despite being in a foreign country and not really knowing the language, the holiday songs that were broadcast from every available speaker were completely recognizable. Of course I say holiday song because I don't feel that "Frosty the Snowman" or "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" count as Christmas songs. It was hard to not be festive with people carrying bags of presents home while whistling along with the music, and the excitement on the children's faces when thinking about their new toys was evident too.

Thinking back on it though, in the years since, Christmas in Japan makes me slightly saddened in a couple of ways. Firstly, because Christmas, second only to Easter, is a main staple of Christian theology, and as previously stated only 1% of Japanese people consider themselves Christian or Catholic. It was slightly sad to go to this specific country, with so few people knowing truly why this holiday is celebrated (not to say that atheists can't have a nice Christmas), it tended to come out even more commercialized than here with less of the redeeming values. Secondly, and more specifically it saddens me in the fact that it shows how much the Japanese really have lost some of their culture in the process of westernizing. It bothers me greatly that America has become the cultural center of the universe mostly because our culture is still struggling to create, redefine, and destroy itself. To see a society that has single handedly embraced American culture so thoroughly does indeed still send pangs of guilt and remorse to my heart.

This isn't to say that everything about Christmas in Japan is wrong. In fact, while I was there, I did enjoy it very much. It seemed like people were fairly happy despite being stressed out about shopping so hard. And the clerks everywhere I went seemed to go out of their way to help, and be friendly, though I'm not sure how much of this was typical behavior and how much of it was to ease the holiday strain. Although I was slightly disappointed at how few decorations families seemed to have in their homes, but going to the stores more than makes up for this lack, since stores seem to over do it a little. What I really enjoyed, other than the Santa Colonel Sanders, was the stark contrast of old Japan verses modern Japan. On my walk from the house to the "downtown" section of the suburb, near the train station; I would walk by a Buddhist garden and reflect upon its beauty before embarking on secular American Christmas carols in Japanese. Even though Christmas in a foreign country is weird, it was still a great learning experience to see how people far away from here celebrate such a time honored tradition that is Christmas, and how they really aren't all that different than us because of it.

In conclusion, Christmas in Japan was very much like Christmas in America, it gave you that sickeningly sweet feeling that dissolve quickly and leaves you empty inside. I spent much of my time shopping for souvenirs, trying new and strange foods, watching children make various Christmas related items (such as candy canes) from construction paper, and I saw a Christmas play at a Japanese school. On farther reflection, how is that really any different than here?