Only once in my life was I away from my family at Christmas, and that one time I was far away indeed, in Tokyo.
I noticed that Christmas was coming from the unbelievable quantity of poinsettias, Christmas trees in the stores, and the customary Christmas songs that filled the air, starting on the day after Halloween. However, the mood of the holiday was very different to what I was used to have at home, or Christmas mood in any Christian country. In Japan, Christmas is a fun-filled, joyful holiday, kind of similar day to Valentine’s Day.
Only one percent of Japanese people are Christian and Christmas day is an ordinary working day. Perhaps the only difference from any other workday is that the men do less overtime. Unmarried men with girlfriends go on dates, while men having family chase off to buy the usual Christmas cake, which costs an incredible amount of money on the 25th December. On the 26th the same cake is available at 50 percent off. (A unique Japanese metaphor is to compare young girls to Christmas cake, which, they say, is hard to be sold after 25. Take a look at Japanese marriage statistics. It suggests that this metaphor needs some revision.)
„Kurisumasu Cake” is a white cake with strawberry cream and a huge amount of whipped cream on the top. I thought it was dry and tasteless. In fact, after tasting a variety of cakes and pastries on different occasions, my opinion is that Japanese people are not really experienced in producing western style patisseries. While they are masters of traditional Japanese delicacies and sweets, it seems that they are unable to find the balance between taste and consistency in western style sweets and creamy cakes. As far as I am concerned, the only sure thing about western style cakes and pastries in Japan is that no matter what they taste like, they are sure to be expensive.
Christmas night is an evening for lovers. After dinner at an excessively expensive restaurant, couples walk around looking at the lovely Christmas lighting in the streets. In the meantime, they surprise one another with cute and adorable (“kawaii”) gifts. They give to each other stuffed teddy bears in impossible colors, jewelry, flowers, and, of course, greeting cards. (It’s hard to see, but the “tree” on the picture below is made from teddy bears.)
I spent my away-from-home Christmas with friends at a Christmas party. First we wanted to go to a restaurant but found it impossible to get a table. They were overbooked with dating couples. Nonetheless, we were able to enjoy a customary Christmas menu since our host ordered the southern fried chicken in advance.
In the 1970s KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) had a very successful campaign that Christmas menu means fried chicken. On Christmas night, they said, everyone in the west eats chicken, not turkey, not ham, and not fish, only chicken. This idea could have a deep root among the Japanese. Chicken therefore became the mandatory Christmas dinner, creating a huge profit for KFC and McDonald’s. They receive a record number of orders on this particular night. Those who forget to order in advance end up spending hours standing in queue at the fast food shops.
This year’s KFC Christmas menu:
I would like to dedicate this Godzilla-Christmas tree photo to my colleague, Bálint, who wrote an interesting story on Godzilla as Japan’s national treasure.
The day after Christmas, all the Christmas ornaments disappear from the shops, giving place to New Year’s decorations. And New Year’s Eve – Oshougatsu – is a real family focused celebration. Life simply stops for a week or ten days and everyone goes home for the New Year’s holiday.