Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas in Japan

Alas, it's been a long time since my last post, for which I do apologize. There's been a bit of stuff going on in my personal life, and a few health problems, but now, things are looking a bit better. I'm not sure, however, how much longer this blog will be relevant, as I might be returning to the USA at the end of March, 2013. It's a long explanation that might require a separate blog entry, but for today--

Christmas in Japan!

As always, I can only report my opinions and observations. I have not conducted any studies or surveys, but here's what the holiday season seems to be like here.

Christmas is fairly new to Japan. The main, traditional religions here are Shinto and Buddhism, and most Japanese seem to happily follow both, using Shinto rituals for certain events, and Buddhist rituals for others. Indeed, when it comes to religion, the Japanese these days seem to be of the opinion "oh, that's cool, let's do that, too, and that, and that, yep, it's all cool."

Certainly there are some churches here, and the people who frequent them might be more serious about their western, Christ-based religion. When I came to Yokosuka, I was even surprised to see some J-folks accosting me with flyers about Jesus. Even in Morioka, twice over two years, people came to my door trying to give me Japanese versions of "The Watchtower."

So, there are people here who have embraced the western religions with nearly as much fervor as some of the bible-thumpers in the US. Even at school, this year I was warned to be sure to check to make sure that making holiday cards was an acceptable activity for my English classes, just in case anyone had religious objections.

There weren't any objections, however. The teachers immediately assured me that they in fact wanted me to do Christmas cards with the class. Largely, Japan is incredibly casual about religion and Christmas. In the US, we require laws to ensure "religious freedom" but here, I think there is far more religious freedom (and freedom from religion) and to my knowledge, there are no specific laws enforcing it. Perhaps a Japanese person might say otherwise, if they feel pressured by family and community to follow a certain religion, but myself, I see a distinct lack of overtly displayed religion and religious pressures.

Anyway, back to Christmas. I'm not sure, actually, if they know the story about baby Jesus, or that originally the late December festivals that have now combined to make Christmas had nothing to do with Christianity, or any of the historical origins at all. One English-speaking Japanese person I showed "Twas the Night Before Christmas" (which is a famous poem in the US, and largely responsible for our current version of Santa Claus) to had never heard of it.

Christmas here is a light, casual holiday largely about Santa. Almost no one decorates, except for malls. They put up lights and sparkly stuff, sometimes a fake tree, and Santa-related images. Sometimes I hear of children getting gifts--usually only one; they are amazed at the stories I tell of heaps of gifts under the tree.

The main Christmas activity is buying (sometime pre-decorated, other times, decorating yourself) and eating a cake with Santa on it. Japanese people I've talked to about it were surprised that I had never seen or heard of a Santa cake in the US. They seemed to have thought that it surely must have come from the US originally, but where the Santa cake came from, I have no idea. I've certainly never eaten one as a part of my family's holiday festivities growing up.

I've never heard of or participated in an office "secret Santa" in Japan and I think holiday parties are rather rare. I did, however, have one Japanese co-worker who invited me to her annual Christmas party. She had a nice meal (no turkey, mashed potatoes, or gravy--all Japanese foods) but she put on some Christmas music, had some decorations up, and everybody brought one unmarked gift, and then randomly received one of the gifts from the pile.

For the most part, it seems that Christmas passes with little remark here, except for the decorations in the malls, related sales, and the Santa cakes.

I wish there was more to say, but that's about it, I think.

I hope everyone has a festive holiday season, in whatever way you choose to celebrate it.

I also do intend to continue recounting my summer vacation and the mountains I hiked, but that will have to wait for a future post.

Mata ne.

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