Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas in Japan

Being away from family during the holidays is one of the not so great parts of living a life abroad. What's worse, I tend to keep choosing countries that don't observe many of the same holidays I am used to. Being a Buddhist country, one would think Japan doesn't carve out Christmas as a special day, though that's not entirely true. Christmas is celebrated in Japan, just a little bit differently. 

In the many weeks leading up to Christmas decorations began popping up in every store I would visit. From the stores' stereo systems came Christmas music, mostly in English. I even saw store cashiers wearing Santa hats. Conveniently packed gifts sets of different food items could be bought in grocery stores. Santa, snowman, and reindeer themed sweets could be bought at bakeries. Christmas is huge here, but not in a religious or spiritual way, not even in a family kind of way. The commercial value of Christmas has permeated it's way through this culture over the past 30 years. 

The biggest difference between a Japanese Christmas and a Western one is who you celebrate with. Christmas in Japan is seen more as a romantic holiday than one you celebrate with your family. In that way it's more similar to Valentine's Day and couples tend to have a nice dinner out on Christmas Eve and exchange gifts. Friends also get together for parties and such. Young children can receive gifts from their parents. 

Due to a marketing campaign in the 1970s, eating Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas Eve is oddly a huge tradition here. Many people make reservations and have a sit down dinner in KFC restaurants, or place orders for their fried chicken in advance. 

During the couple of weeks before Christmas is surely was all around me. In my 10th grade classes we had a special Christmas lesson where the students had to answer Christmas trivia, sing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and use some Christmas vocabulary. 

I took part in a gift exchange with the English club at the end of the Christmas party. With the $5 limit I brought a small jar of peanut butter as my gift, wanting to share something American that I enjoy so well. 

A couple of my Japanese partner teachers arranged for the students to surprise me with Christmas cards. Their personal messages wishing me well and showing their admiration definitely helped me to feel loved this holiday season. 

I woke up Christmas morning to talk with my parents over Skype and to open up the gifts that we had sent to each other. Many generous friends and family members back home sent me wonderful things that ensured me I wasn't forgotten. It was nice to receive some foods with labels I can actually read! 

On Christmas Day I was lucky to receive an invitation from one of my colleagues to spend the day with her. Miss Niwa is in her 50s and single so the two of us were a pair. Not wanting to spend Christmas alone, we spent it in each other's company. 

We started with lunch at a quaint French restaurant, followed by going to a movie theater to see Rogue One, the newest Star Wars film. When I told her about a Japanese soup I had been wanting to make she invited me to her apartment to make it that evening. We stopped at the grocery store after the movie to gather the supplies. We ended the night with a couple of beers and delicious warm soup.

It was nice to relate to her and share many of our travel stories. We have gotten together outside of school before, once for dinner and once to take a yoga class. She shared with me more about her travels to 20 different counties and we discussed the year she spent living in Canada.