The Witless Clunkery of a Third-Rate Mind

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas in Japan

... is kind of crappy, to be honest. This is because the Japanese have transplanted all the obvious things about Christmas (buying presents, stringing up lights, putting Santa hats on everyone and everything, etc.) while leaving behind all the intangible things (family, peace, hope, goodwill toward men, etc.) that actually make Christmas pleasant, and something to look forward to.
I heard my first Christmas tune playing over the speakers in a bakery on November 1st. One day after Halloween! This invoked a shudder of dread as I thought, "Oh no ... 2 months of awful Christmas music to endure." And it is truly, TRULY awful. Sorry to paint the Japanese with a broad brush, but their taste in Christmas music is utterly appalling. First of all, "Last Christmas" by Wham and "All I Want For Christmas" by Mariah Carey are in near-constant rotation. I would like to point out that, before I came to Japan, I was barely aware of the existence of these songs. Now, I have probably heard them about 1,000 times each. If you're not trying to ignore the original version, you are trying to ignore the dance remix, the bossa nova remix, the slow jazz remix, or the steel pan drum remix. Which brings me to my next point: the Japanese seem to have absolutely nothing against taking a beautiful, tasteful, atmospheric Christmas carol, and perverting it utterly by making a J-Rap version, or a Euro-beat remix. Imagine the Club mix of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen". Makes the gorge rise, doesn't it? If you or I heard any one of these songs, we would immediately rip the needle off the record while screaming, "That is an abomination!" and then break the disc in half over our collective knee.
The whole idea of "peace at Christmas" seems to be lost on them, as does the idea of "taste" or "simplicity". It's funny that these ideas are such a central part of traditional Japanese culture. Perhaps because Christmas is a foreign holiday, and everyone knows that foreigners are brash, loud, and tasteless ... so Christmas must be too! And thus, barkers stand outside of stores in ill-fitting Santa suits, screaming "Irasshaimase" - the equivalent of "Come right in, come right in!" at the top of their lungs. I've never seen anybody with an air horn, but frankly, it wouldn't surprise me. Meanwhile, they are standing beside a neon-pink Christmas tree decorated with strobing multi-coloured lights, while (you guessed it) the marching band remix of "Last Christmas" blares in the background.
And forget about "goodwill toward men". I took the train on Christmas eve, and again on Christmas day. Maybe it was just me, but I really think everybody was actually a bit grumpier than usual. A buddy of mine told a similar story: he was riding the train with another foreign friend. The friend, feeling a bit of yuletide gladness, suggested, "Why don't we start singing a Christmas carol?" but my buddy sized up the situation and told him, "Are you kidding? Look around - everyone is miserable. They'd lynch us." And they were miserable. Perhaps they were resentful that they had to work on a day which, on one hand is hyped as a big holiday, but on the other hand, is just another day at the office.
In Japan, Christmas isn't really for kids, or for families, but rather, it's for lovers. Grab your sweetie, go for a nighttime stroll around some flashing lights, whisper some sweet nothings, slip her the necklace you were coerced into buying her, eat a bit of Christmas cake - done! Time to take down the decorations. And believe you me, on December 26th, there is not a Christmas decoration to be found. The same uncompromising efficiency that keeps the trains running on time is applied to removing all traces of Christmas cheer. So much for "the 12 days of Christmas".
But fair enough - they're getting ready for New Year's, which is the REAL celebration. It's a time to get severely drunk, to eat traditional food, to commute vast distances to be with your whole family, to give children presents, to go to the shrine and pray ... all the things we do in Canada, at Christmas. With so much overlap, I guess it's understandable that Christmas pales before New Year's in Japan.
(But still ... why is everyone so damn grumpy at Christmas?)
Hoping everyone had a wonderful Christmas, and wishing you all a Great New Year!