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Saturday, Dec. 22, 2007

JAPAN LITE

Preparing for . . . the Christmas that never comes


You think Christmas celebrations start too early in your country? So that when Christmas finally comes, you've already had enough of it? Where do you think "Season's Greetings" comes from?

Christmas is an entire season, just like spring or summer. The result is that by the time Christmas does arrive, you're already sick of it.

But at least it comes. In Japan, there is no Christmas at all, just preparation for it. Yep, all that buildup to Christmas day — decorations, lights, shopping, Christmas carols — then Christmas doesn't happen. It's as if they just called it off at the last minute. Or maybe someone kidnapped it. Perhaps North Korea, for example.

Whatever the reason, Christmas isn't a holiday in Japan. It's just another day. Santa does come on Christmas eve to leave a present for the children, but other than that, there is nothing left to celebrate: no family gatherings, no day off to catch up with friends, no gift exchanges, no Christmas dinner Mom has spent an entire day in the kitchen preparing, and no last-minute Christmas shopping for that special person you forgot completely about.

You'd think the Japanese would have caught on by now. But no, they still doggedly prepare for Christmas each year, not even realizing it doesn't ever happen. To the Japanese, Dec. 25 is merely the date to start taking the decorations down.

If you asked Japanese people what happens on Christmas Day, they'd look at you like you're crazy and say, "Nothing, of course!" However, if they were really pressed for an answer, their first guess would probably be "Cake!" followed by "Kentucky Fried Chicken!" and then, "Illuminations!"

I suppose the preparation for Christmas is indicative of the meticulous Japanese who just love to plan and organize things down to the last detail. I even wonder if Christmas in Japan isn't put on by the Boy Scouts. Whereas the Boy Scout motto in the United States has always been "Be prepared!" in Japan it's probably, "Preparation!"

It's a good thing Christmas didn't originate in Japan, because if it had, the Japanese would hold it on Dec. 25 at exactly 1:15 p.m. and Santa would visit everyone's house on a very tight sleigh schedule. He certainly wouldn't come in the middle of the bloody night. Furthermore, we'd all have to prepare a gift to give him back in exchange for the one he gave us.

Since Japan is not a Christian country, Japanese see Christmas as a secular event and something everyone is entitled to enjoy. I think the original attraction to Christmas for the Japanese was the lights. Perhaps because it reminds them of pachinko. Do you think pachinko parlors play Christmas carols at high volume during the holidays?

For the most part, Japanese people do not put up Christmas lights on their houses or put Christmas displays in their yards, but there are plenty of "illuminations" during the Christmas holidays. It seems every city has light displays lining the main street and a large Christmas tree on display somewhere downtown.

However, there is a trend I have noticed over the past few years that some of the wealthier people have started, which I call the Nuclear Dandelion Seed Head Revolution. This refers to increased sightings of large electrified balls on the tops of poles erected in people's yards during the Christmas season.

These balls are about 2 meters in diameter with shafts sticking out all over them and are apparently supposed to represent a bursting firework when lit up. To me, the shape looks more like an electrified dandelion seed head. Or perhaps a GPS device to track aliens on other planets.

If enough of these people take up this fad, I fear that one Christmas the entire island of Honshu is going to lift up and take off to Mars amid shouts of "Bring Christmas to the Martians!"



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