Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas in Tokyo (2007)

The Christmas sign hanging in a shopping street in our neighborhood.

Last year, I wrote that it's all pretty much over in Japan by the time Christmas day hits. I figured that I'd go out and walk around to see if there was much of a difference on Christmas Eve. Also, this year we didn't really have anything special on hand for dinner and I wanted to see if there was anything for sale locally which might fit the bill.

Coincidentally, December 24 this year was a national holiday (Labor Thanksgiving Day The Emperor's Birthday) in Japan so many people had the day off though most of them probably didn't even know what the name of the holiday was. In close proximity to each Japanese national holiday, I ask every one of my students what holiday is coming up or has passed and they rarely know. When I asked one of my students what Japanese holiday was on the 24th, she thought a bit and said, "Christmas eve". When I told her that that wasn't a Japanese national holiday, she frowned in concentration and came up with "Christmas?" As is the case with most of these one-day national holidays, they do nothing to celebrate. It's just a (paid) day off for which they are grateful.

The weather yesterday was a little cold and very windy, but quite sunny. It wasn't a bad day at all, but most of the faces I saw while out shopping looked pretty glum. I guess the wind, which was strong enough to shake parked bicycles into new positions, may have been a factor in that as it whipped across exposed hands and faces. Since it was a holiday, I also saw more people out and about in casual clothes. The polished and business-suited masses have a more rundown look when they walk about in jeans and casual jackets. The general atmosphere was not very festive or encouraging.

A forlorn-looking Christmas cake stand outside the local "99" shop. While 990 yen cakes weigh down the left side, cheap Christmas-themed treats occupy the right.

There were fewer tables sitting outside of businesses selling Christmas cakes than I would have expected and none of them were actually manned. In business districts (rather than more residential areas like where we live), I'm sure they were outside their establishments in their Santa hats enduring the cold and watching the dead ginkgo leaves blow around, but they didn't bother in my neck of the woods. Given the reluctant food traffic, they probably wouldn't have done enough business to justify their facial wind burns.

I checked out some local supermarkets and was surprised to find that they had whole chickens on sale with labels noting that they were for Christmas meals. Since it is uncommon to find whole chickens in most places, that was a good sign in and of itself. Unfortunately, there were only two varieties on hand. One was a very small whole chicken, conveniently packed with two frilly aluminum leg cuffs, that looked about the size of a pigeon with a glandular problem. It was ¥1000 ($8.75) for about 1 kg. (2.2lbs.) The other was larger (2 kg.) but the price seemed to have ballooned with its size. It was ¥2800 ($24.50) and I couldn't justify that much money for that amount of food and gave it a pass (though I did pick it up a few times and think long and hard about it).

Despite the expensive chickens, Christmas cakes, and some artificial tress here and there in front of businesses, there was the omnipresent Christmas muzak. Though the surroundings weren't as lush or opulent as you'd find back home, it wasn't the absence of overly done decorations which undermined my Christmas spirit, it was the lack of the energy you feel around this time of year back home. There's excitement in the air back home. There's casual interest in Japan with people idly picking over the goods on hand trying to approximate what they think is the way to celebrate. Given that Christmas isn't even a real holiday in Japan, that's no surprise, but it can leave one feeling a little homesick at this time of year.


lostinube said...

Merry Christmas!
Actually, yesterday was a make-up holiday for the Emperor's Birthday on the 23rd. Kinro kansha no hi is in November.
I for one have been enjoying my slow Christmases in Japan. Back home my family would host a Christmas party at my house and the days leading up to Christmas were about cleaning and preparing as well as having to fight the crowds at the malls. I can do without the Christmas stress.

Shari said...

Merry Christmas to you, too, lostinube. :-)

Literally, seconds before I accessed your comment, my husband pointed out my mistake to me and I was moments away from fixing it. It just goes to show I don't know the holidays either. ;-)

To be fair, one of my students sort of confirmed my incorrect conclusion by saying she thought the holiday had something to do with "labor". I thought there were two holidays (because my calendar says so and one was the emperor's birthday).

I never felt much Christmas stress back home. I think it's because I'm very organized and started preparing slowly from October (because I enjoyed it so much). Also, my family didn't do parties so there wasn't the need to mess about for hostessing duties.

mjgolli said...

I'm glad to hear that Ohio is not the only windy place on the planet.

Yesterday was so windy it was blowing cars off the road here in town. I swear that I could feel the breeze through the seemingly solid walls of my house.

Christmas seemed to start winding down here before it got started. I was out on Saturday and the stores already started stocking up on items for Valentines Day! This is outrageous! LOL!

Emsk said...

Merry Christmas to you and hubby, Shari! I hope that you managed to take the day off together. Alas I've ahd to work, but I'm looking forward to the holidays in a few days.