Tomo lets us know what it is like spending Christmas in Japan in his latest blog. Check out how he found a job and how he found teaching there in his other blogs.
Christmas, a time of drinking, eating, family and presents that range from the useful to the downright daft. This will be my first Christmas day without the family and a part of me had always been curious as to what it would be like. And so now I find myself spending the yuletide period in Tokyo without my immediate family or my usual group of friends (with the exception to one from secondary school, who I will be forever grateful for giving me some grounded stability in this extraordinary place). I will also find myself working on Christmas day (but not eve so some sense of sensibility) to add to my holiday away from home.
The Japanese certainly know how to “do” Christmas. Every street is lined with coloured lights and jazzed up versions of seasonal music are piped out of every shop, department store and street corner speaker. The songs make it a similar feeling to walking around a city as if it were one big Starbucks. All the major department stores pack their shelves with suitable gifts and offer a (free) gift-wrapping service. So after a days shopping spree, I had all my presents bought and wrapped ready to go out in the next days post. In fact the only thing I haven’t been able to buy here is a Christmas pudding. In the words of Ramsey, commercial side of Christmas – done.
The “spirit” of Christmas is a slightly different matter in Japan however. Clearly the country is not a Christian one, and frankly neither am I. Christmas day is also not a public holiday (though many companies seem to close for this period) so a family gathering of too much food and drunkenness is not something I expect in the slightest. Family time after all in this country is saved for new years day. But as much as I would hate to impose (or see imposed) any kind of western tradition to this country, there is something about my students telling me they plan to go to KFC on Christmas day that grinds my teeth a little. Of all the shopping and commercialism that goes into Christmas, there is something nice (and that I miss) about the UK where just about everything is shut on the 25th itself and any food poisoning received is your own fault. That said, I will admit that if you buy something from KFC, then at least a proportion of the blame for any food related illness does go to the purchaser.
Anyway, so I thought I had only the gift experience of Christmas to go through in this holiday. But my aforementioned friend gave me a call two nights ago and invited me over for Christmas dinner along with around eight other people. After I had turned up after work, I could see that this was going to be a truly wonderful Christmas dinner. Plates were laid out; there was (some) turkey, chicken, potatoes, veg., gravy and even some stuffing. People were chatting and it was all very….christmassy. Then came the piece de resistance. Within around half an hour of arriving, the smoke alarm went off (and in true Japanese style, there is not only a siren but also a female voice telling you that the alarm has gone off). Someone would then step onto the counter; turn it off, only for the alarm to start sounding again about 10 minutes later. The beauty was that this alarm had a speaker on the outside of the apartment as well. Cue embarrassment of a bunch of foreigners causing a riot in an eight-storey apartment block on a Sunday night.
It was a beautiful thing to know that I could have the cheer, the joy and the calamity of Christmas in not just a foreign country, but also without my family. Now lets see if a suitable thing can happen for new years as well.