Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Christmas Season is in Full Swing in Japan...

That's Maeda Aki, future star of Battle Royale and Linda, Linda, Linda, doing a Japanese version of "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town." Maeda Aki is still bouncing around in film and TV work.

Meanwhile, downtown Hamamatsu is decorated with holiday lights and Christmas songs blare from the outdoor speakers on Yuraku-gai and along Kajimachi-dori. The giant tree at Entetsu department store puts on its nightly performance of ever-changing lights and festive songs. KFC is doing brisk business and so are all the baked good shops offering Christmas cakes. Even the bowl-bearing cat in front of the stationery store not far from our school is wearing a Santa costume.

Why is Christmas so popular in Japan, where only about 1% of the population are Christians? I have no idea. Maybe it has something to do with the Japanese love for cute things and shopping. The secular traditions of Christmas-- Santa, Christmas trees, novelty songs and bargain sales-- certainly push those two buttons. While New Year's celebrations in Japan seem closer in spirit to my family's Christmas observations, Christmas here is merely a fun time for lovers to go on romantic dates and exchange gifts bathed in the splendor of holiday illuminations. Everyone looks pretty in new winter clothes under the lights.

Another thing: It's also bounen-kai season here. Bounen-kai are "forget the year" parties, a time to get properly shit-faced and put aside all the lousy, stinking things that happened to you over the past twelve months. You know-- six day work-weeks, spending hours daily on a crowded Yamanote line train, getting up at 5am to make lunch bento for your kids, coming down with the "new flu," H1N1. If you work for a company or are a college student in a club or have lots of friends, you'll probably have more bounen-kai than you can safely attend in December. I know of one older guy-- a real party animal-- who had two on consecutive nights, took Saturday off and then had another on Sunday.

You'll have no trouble forgetting a year when ending it in a series of alcoholic black-outs.

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