by Satoshi Kawase
For all the talk about the commercialization of Christmas in our modern times the fact remains that it is, indelibly, a Christian holiday. It is the day we celebrate the birth of Christ, go to church, and be among family and loved ones. Hard to believe in this age of Tickle Me Elmo consumerism and TV Christmas special mock sentimentalism, but deep down we are cognizant that the holiday is a day of religious observance. You can’t spell “Christmas” without first spelling out “Christ” and, in America at least, you can’t go through the holiday without at least a certain amount of sanctimony.
And yet for Japan, a country in which the Christian population is roughly 0.5%, Christmas? unofficially? is one of the biggest holidays of the year. Come December and you’ll see all the yuletide signs albeit with a Japanese flavor. Young Japanese girls scantily dressed as Santa’s elves handing out paper napkins with maps on them, Christmas trees proudly on display blanketed with lights and origami swans, Santa at the mall who under all that white beard ends up being a middle-aged Japanese man named Tanaka.
Yet, for a bunch of non-Christians all this makes as much sense as astrophysics to a wino. None. It’s easy to conclude that the prominence of Christmas in Japan is perpetuated by retailers, toy makers, and advertisers as a wholly commercial creation. Case in point is the Captain Santa Brand. Here is a brand, that makes it’s living off of St. Nick’s big ole’ fluffy smile and his total lack of copyright restrictions.
But then again, Christmas is just so freaking CUTE! Western culture really needs to give itself a pat on the back for this. Santa, the elves, the reindeer, the presents, Mrs. Clause, heck even little baby Jesus in the manger makes Christmas by far our most adorable holiday.
And if you haven’t noticed, cute goes a long way in Japan. “Cute” is a billion dollar a year industry, and if there ever was a holiday that was prepackaged, stamped and ready to roll for Japan, it’s Christmas. If you’re out in Tenjin this season, your Japanese girlfriend won’t outwardly seem very phased by all the Christmas lights and the fake snow and the carols on the P.A. speaker system, but trust me, come late at night she’ll wake up at 3 am in a cold sweat and bellow “I need to buy those cute puppy figurines! And I need to buy them… RIGHT …NOW!”
Excuse me my pink Hello Kitty cell phone is ringing. It’s God and he wants Christmas back from the Japanese School girls. Another thing I just don’t get about Christmas in Japan. Here it is largely a dating holiday. Excuse me if I sound a little Maxim magazine with this article but fellas, a little advice; if a Japanese girl asks you out on a date this Christmas, turn down the lights and turn up the music, because the party has just begun. Yes, Christmas is the Japanese equivalent of Valentine’s day and for Japanese girls who have boyfriends it is a day for them to brag and for those without it is a night of sulking misery. Christmas eve is the busiest night of the year for two industries in Japan: the bakery industry for the making of “Christmas Cake” and the Love Hotel Industry for the uhh… consumption?
But I digress. Far be it for me to portray the Japanese as a hedonistic bunch, after all in the west we follow our Christmas holiday with perhaps our most debaucherous day of reckoning in New Year’s. The Japanese in contrast spend their New Year’s in a most quiet fashion among family, eating a traditional meal, and going to the shrine to pay their respects to the gods. If you were to ask them, they would be a little shocked that we spend their holiest of holy days freezing our bottoms in the dead of winter, downing a tequila shot per second for the final ten seconds of the year while rocking it out with Dick Clark.
So maybe it’s a reversal? Maybe our Christmas is their New Year’s and vice-versa? Eh? Err? Hmm? Sure, Japanese people might not know the meaning of Christmas, but they at least know that it marks the beginning of a season where you spend time with the ones you love and you put aside your petty differences. Hey you know what? Maybe they get it after all?