Saturday, December 8, 2007

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

That's right. Here in Nihon it's Bounenkai (bow-nan-kigh) season. Who or what is bounenkai? Bounenkai is a what and it means "end of year parties." At year's end, companies and groups of friends get together to celebrate with food and drink. Lots and lots of drink.

One young woman I know has to (has to) go to no less than 5 bounenkai this year. When she told me about them, she wore a wry smile, because like many social functions here in Japan, bounenkai are obligatory, which makes them a sort of mixed blessing. Fun, but you really have no choice but to attend. Because Japan is the land of obligatory fun, practically no matter how exhausted you are. Not only that, but these bounenkai are going to set her back a big chunk of money. She has to take a taxi to each one because none of them are going to be at izakaya near the station.

I'm sure she doesn't feel too badly about it. After all, she'll have a blast at each. And it's no surprise she has so many parties to attend. But even people like myself have at least one bounenkai invitation. Mine is a more birthday party than bounenkai, but it has some year end/Christmas undertones. A friend gets a year older, the earth completes yet another solar orbit and we all feel good about these things. Why not eat massive quantities of fried food on sticks washed down with daijoki of beer?

We're deep into Japanese Christmas season here, too. You'd have to be some sort of idiot or masochist to even think about dining at a KFC in Japan these days. And to those back home worried I'm not getting my annual required dosage of seasonal music, let me reassure you that my system is thoroughly over saturated with Manheim Steamroller and as a result I'm in danger of anaphylactic shock.

Okay, that video clip isn't from Japan. But there are lots of Christmas lights a-shinin' in the dark these nights. Near Kobe there's evidently a famous display of what people here call "Christmas illumination." Kurisumasu ilumine?

Here's a video of what Christmas in Japan looks like:

To whoever shot this... excellent work!

There are approximately 1 million Christians in Japan for whom December means celebrating the birth of the Messiah, but Christmas is also enjoyed by many others here in this largely secular nation populated mostly by Buddhists and Shintoists. Even the concept of Santa Claus carries cultural weight here. Talking to friends, I've learned that many of them received Christmas day visits from Ol' Saint Nick, or as he's known here, Santa-san.

Santa-san comes in a window (chimneys are scarce here... but why he doesn't use a door, I don't know) and leaves gifts to good little children on their pillows. When the gift is a bicycle, I imagine that causes a few logistical nightmares but the big guy is obviously up to the task. He's only been doing it for a thousand years or so.

I did hear a few tragic stories, though. One person told me she used to write wishes down on slips of paper and put them in a sock each December, but Santa-san never came. Another said she asked her parents why Santa-san never left her anything on her pillow.

"We're Buddhists," was her parents' common sense reply.


Nenena said...

Oh man, JR Towers in Nagoya. (*dies of nostalgia*)

Even some houses in my tiny little mountain village have Christmas lights and Christmas trees. ;)

Joel Bryan said...

Nenena- Yep, the Nagoya station. When I started looking for Christmas in Japan videos, I chose the first one that looked interesting without knowing it was shot there. Haven't been to Nagoya in two years!

That's cool, the Christmas lights and trees there. A tiny mountain village? Will you have snow? Have you already had snow?