Back in 2007, when my Japanese was even worse than it is now, I managed to land a gig on a team of translators/interpreters for the ESPN crew that had come to Tokyo for the World Figure Skating Championships. For a week we kept the fridge in the staff room stocked with Coke, taped wires and cables to the floor, and, once in a while, facilitated a conversation between an American cameraman and a Japanese electrician (repeating the words the cameraman said for the electrician in Japanized pronunciation: keh-booru for cable, puh-ra-ee-ood for plywood, etc).
One day for lunch we ordered Dominos Pizza for the crew. As soon as they walked in after the morning session the sarcasm started flying. “Wow! Dominos! I love Japanese food! I came all the way here for this?” Then they saw their pizzas were topped with mayonnaise and corn and tuna and shrimp. “What is this? Where’s the pepperoni?”
For all the sarcasm I was (silently) answering them with, years later I’d realize that my reaction to Christmas in Japan has been a lot like their pizza protestations. “Why are they celebrating Christmas anyway? Does anyone even understand the songs they’re listening to?” This followed by “Why can’t they decorate their trees in red and green and silver like normal?”
Over the past few years it seems they’ve begun to fall in line with the Western version of Christmas I grew up with.
To be honest, I’m kind of disappointed.
Riding around town, along Ise-machi Street and the individually, uniquely-decorated trees and the random Christmas adornments in shops and store windows, I find that I appreciate the local twist to the old Western traditions.
I mean, so what if the kids are posing with a bear instead of with a fat guy with a white beard and a silly red get-up? Or if the lights at night are mostly blue?
Mixed with the more traditional manifestations – i.e. what I grew up with – the Christmas that is appearing here in Matsumoto and, I suspect, across the rest of Japan, is exactly that. Christmas in Japan.
Shortly before I first moved to Japan one of my friends remarked, upon hearing my plans, “But Japan is so different!”
Yup. That’s pretty much the idea.
So even though the holidays don’t quite play out like they did in my previous life – and I do miss that huge family Christmas dinner by the massive Christmas tree – I look around at this Japanese version of Christmas and I think ‘Yeah, Japan is different.’
And I’m good with that.