I hope everyone is having a nice holiday. I’m relaxed right now – it was a tough week at work with nearly all the office gone. I stayed in Nagoya and it was work as usual for Japan but quiet in the States. I was kept hopping. I am off until January 5th and I will stay in Japan. I hope to recharge in this time, and I think that I will be able to do so. I have started to wind down quite successfully.
I am sorry that my blog hasn’t been updated for a while. I’ve had some good ideas that have entered my head and just as quickly exited. So just be aware that you are going to miss some great material!
Christmas in Japan
Christmas is a much different experience in Japan than in the US. For those who have spent much time in Japan, you know that Christmas is really a “date night.” The lights and decorations and shopping are all very romantic. The idea for Christmas is to have a nice dinner with your significant other on Christmas eve, go to a hotel, maybe exchange a gift, and, well, do whatever couples do when they go to a hotel together (what they do could be a function of the amount of alcohol consumed at dinner).
In Japan, there really isn’t really as much public displays of affection as there can be in other countries. Couples, unless they are a foreigner and a native, tend to be very hands-off in public (mixed race couples – gaijin / nihonjin – tend to be much more touchy-feely as though one or the other is showing off the prize that they have found). Christmas eve, after an 11 hour day at work, I started heading home. At the train stations and during transitions to trains I noticed a LOT more hand holding than I’d normally see. Maybe I was just paying more attention and was sensitive to what I thought Christmas Eve should be in Japan, or maybe I was really seeing something. I mentioned it to a Japanese colleague the next day and she agreed with me. So that’s what Christmas means to couples in Japan.
There is also a gift giving tradition that has been introduced in Japan. It probably was a campaign instituted by the government to encourage people to spend money. Apparently it has worked since savings rates have toppled over the past years. In spite of the impending doom, all the shopping, expensive stores, and consumption in Japan, the approximately 25% savings rate on disposable income is still relatively high. Although it is hard to get a consistent story, and the number varies widely [UPDATE: I got a comment from the blog I referenced stating, “The 25% or so savings rate is for households with a salaried worker as head of household. With about 35% of the workforce now on contract employment status, such figures can be very misleading.” Thanks for the explanation – that makes sense to me]. I guess I talked about the gift giving tradition earlier in my blog.
One thing that I didn’t know was that there is also an amazing tradition that is COMPLETELY FABRICATED for Japanese consumption. You see, it is a Christmas tradition to eat Kentucky Fried Chicken in Japan.
Honest to blog – Christmas Kentucky Fried Chicken. My translator agreed that it is a tradition. Some KFCs here close so they can prepare enough chicken for Christmas. There are security guards directing traffic at popular stores. Who started this tradition? I don’t know. One “source” says it started soon after the first store was opened in Nagoya in 1970. Recall this is a blog, not a source of scholarly research. Anyway, the Colonel is loved for Christmas.
In doing my “research” I discovered that Harland Sanders (the Colonel) was born and raised in Henryville, Indiana. How is that for a Hoosier contribution to the entire world? I also heard a story growing up that my Dad met the Colonel when he (my Dad, that is) was a student at Purdue. The Colonel was giving a talk at the school. My Dad’s major was Home Economics – predating the Restaurant, Hotel, and Institutional Management school that now exists. My Dad was manning the cloak room. The Colonel offered him a tip and my Dad refused it, saying they were not allowed to be tipped. So the Colonel said he would just put the quarter (or dime or whatever the going rate was in the late 50s) and my Dad could watch it grow. Apparently by the end of the night my Dad had a good collection sitting on the counter. I guess the Colonel knew a thing or two about business. I don’t know if that story is the equivalent of a family urban legend, hyperbole grown into truth, or actually the truth. I’d like to believe it though, because it is a good story!
As I said, I worked on Christmas Day. My manager (who was back in the States and who I was covering for…) suggested that I should make Christmas Day a short day if I had to even go to work at all. I told him that if I have to stay in Japan to cover I’d much rather work and interact with people and do the job I was there to do than sit at home by myself and mope because I was alone and away from my family for the first time EVER in my life. I think he got the point. Christmas is just another day, trains run regular schedule, shops are open, restaurants areopen, and people go to work. So did I.
So what did I do? I worked – quite a bit actually. Things were busy in the office as I said, especially since I was covering for a lot of people. As part of our drive for service to the community here in Japan, we adopted an orphanage for Christmas. We got every child in the orphanage winter coats, and the kids made some pretty specific requests. It was a good thing to do. I chose to get coats for two high school boys. Although I have three nieces, I’m not good buying clothes for girls over the age of 2. The boys gave pictures of the type of coats they wanted and I thought I’d go to UNIQLO because they have good clothes for a cheap price (US site is here). It is the only store where I can get something that fits me. Luckily, the coats the kids picked out were from UNIQLO so I could get them exactly what they wanted. I wonder how often orphans actually get what they want? The orphanage is pretty small so only two representatives from each site went to distribute the coats. Also, pictures could not be taken because it would compromise the safety of some of the kids (that is really sad). Apparently one of the boys was extremely grateful to receive the coat that he got from me, and continually thanked the folks there representing our team.
Does this blog seem rambling to you today? Why would I go tell the orphanage story? To show our team’s humanitarian spirit to inspire you to do the same? To show what a great and giving guy I am? Probably a little of both. But really, because I liked the coat one of the kids picked out so much that I wanted it for myself too! So on Christmas Day I hightailed it to UNIQLO and bought a new winter coat (on sale for 33% off I might add). Here’s the cool coat below.
I haven’t had a coat with fur on the hood since I was about 7 years old. The fur is removable, by the way, as is the hood. It is a down coat, but I think quite honestly that my wool coat is warmer because the wool itself doesn’t feel as cold to the touch as the polyester / nylon outer shell of this coat. Maybe it just seems colder because it has gotten a lot colder lately in Japan.
After shopping I had a bowl of traditional Christmas Chili Con Carne at Soup Stock Tokyo.
I promise you, Christmas chili will be the next big Christmas tradition after KFC becomes passé. I had to run back to Nagoya Station, get a shinkansen ticket to come to Tokyo for the weekend, and then go home. Unfortunately, I spent the rest of the night wrestling with my Mac, Photoshop, and printer because printing stopped working. I was unsuccessful – that’s a project for another day.
There is another tradition in Japan that I experienced – that is to have a “forget the year party”, (bounenkai, 忘年会). Basically, it is a go out and eat izakaya and get plastered with your colleagues. My japanese got very good by the end of the night and I think my Japanese colleague’s english got a lot better too. Funny how that works. It was fun.