Christmas Eve, a Day For Lovers in Japan

If you can't see the video, go here: http://youtu.be/JVFQ5ckYrSY

It's still Christmas! And there is still plenty to talk about this holiday season in Japan. Christmas Eve, for example, could hardly be any more different.

Most people hate Christmas Eve right? Either you are an adult and its the day when you have to rush around doing last minute jobs like shopping for that awkward uncle, cooking cakes, and meeting long lost relatives at the train station or you are a child and you desperately want time to go faster so Santa can hurry up and bring you everything your little heart desires.

Well, in Japan, Christmas Eve is the big holiday. On Christmas Day itself they do nothing. Little kids get presents from Santa, but that's it. No big deal is made really, and it's honestly quite depressing to go out on Christmas Day to find that everything is open as normal and the streets are busy with people. I really miss the quiet, private mystery of the world on Christmas Day, knowing that everyone else is inside their homes, spending time with family.

So what happens on Christmas Eve to make it so different? It's a day for lovers. In fact. It's a better Valentine's Day than Valentine's Day, mainly because that holiday is downgraded to a cringeworthy tribute to how shy the Japanese male is, but more on that in February. On Christmas Eve, couples spend the day together. They might have a lunch, and go on a date during the day, maybe play games or take photos together if they are teenagers, or mature couples will book a meal in a restaurant and be more romantic. They exchange gifts and you might even see some hand holding. That's quite a big deal here.

The only requisite is that couples should eat chicken on this day. I don't know why. Perhaps it comes from the western tradition of eating turkey and it got confused in translation a little, but that's how it is. So forget going to KFC on that day. The queues are massive!

The thing is if you go outside on December 24th in Japan you will see couples everywhere. Everywhere! More than tribbles! More than hairs on a piece of sucked candy dropped on the floor of a pet salon. So it's a terrible day for those trying to escape reminders of a lost love or those who are alone. I've had students complain to me how much they hate it because they are always alone and they dread Christmas. It's quite sad really.

After the day, things calm down, children get a few presents from Santa and maybe some families go out for a meal, but it really is a normal day. In fact, I know that some high school students (and possibly others) go to school on Christmas Day! They will never know that special feeling of Christmas. I didn't have that this year, but we did have a great Christmas, we opened nice presents, had an all-you-can-eat lunch, watched a genius taiko drummer that drew a huge crowd, sang karaoke, and met Darth Vader. You really can't top that. Go Japan!


Sendai Starlight Pageant and Santa Parade

If you can't see the video, go here: http://youtu.be/YQXUKAzbmng

Christmas is here, and although we have started this project a little too late to blog about our preparations for the holiday season here in Japan that doesn't mean we can't show you the celebrations. Starting today with Sendai city's Starlight Pageant and Santa Parade!

Christmas in Japan is a strange thing. As soon as Halloween is over, the shops start filling up with christmas goodies and decorations appear on the streets. It's actually really funny because a lot of the decorations openly acknowledge that Santa is fake (sorry kids) by showing the real dark hair of the character poking out from under the beard or hat. Take a look at this Buddha dressed up as Santa for a start.

They have a lot of build up with adverts and shop promotions, present buying and well... practically everything we have in the west, bar the Christmas songs. They have them, but it's like everyone has the same CD and they only play those few songs everywhere.

However, where the differences appear is in their festivals and in the day itself. Christmas Eve is the big day here. It's seen as another Valentine's Day (but more on that tomorrow). So on Christmas day itself, nothing happens. Nothing at all. Well, maybe some people take down decorations.

Anyway, back to tonight. The illuminations are along Jozenji-dori, in Sendai, all through December, with the final flash calling in the new year. For this night, the show starts at 5.30 pm. The street is dark and people gather all along waiting for the moment when the lights flash on. It is actually incredible to behold. If you watch our video, you'll see that after the lights turn on the background looks like a green screen image, it's so unreal, but I swear it is true. Thousands of fairy lights wrap the trees and everyone cries out with a massive "oooh!" when they turn on. It's such an impressive moment that they stop the parade two times and repeat it.

For the rest of the night it feels like we are walking through a brightly lit cave. So I guess you could call it Santa's grotto. Y'know, if you were really lame or something... *ahem!* One the pavement (sidewalks), people rush to find a good position to watch the parade, but in the middle path, in the centre of the road, couples and families stroll holding hands, and occasionally pausing to take photos.

Then the road is blocked off to traffic. The performers line up. The parade begins. Christmas music blares out from the many Santa's playing instruments, while cheerleaders and dancing groups weave their way in entrancing patterns down the street. It's a lot of fun to watch. There's usually a fat old Santa giving out presents and even drivers of floats and cars have Santa, elf and yay sometimes even Rudolph hats and masks on. So we get a good laugh.

After an hour or so, after a couple of restarts, the parade stops for good. There is a break while the separate performing groups find a spot to set up. Then instead of them doing the walking (lazy smeggers), we have to walk around and look at them! But I jest. It is good fun. The groups dance and sing to separate songs. There's food stalls open selling drinks and snacks, everything from fried chicken and squid to noodles and rice. There's also a beer tent, which you can see in the video, and this year they had a mini ice rink in there too.

Lots of people come from other cities to see the event so the nearest park is filled up with buses and you can all laugh as the visitors get off and form their little tourist groups where they follow the flag. The leader always has a little flag. So one day I want to run around tourist attractions with a fake flag and see how many people I can confuse. Mwuahahaha! 

So, that's it really. After the performances have finished, people mill about a bit and enjoy the illuminations some more and then wander home. This year it was snowing heavily for the first time and so we didn't linger long. Natalie especially doesn't like the cold so we rushed home for warmth!



Hello, folks and welcome! This is the beginning of something big. No, I'm not talking about my morning trip to the toilet, rather its our new project. Through blog entries and mainly our new YouTube channel of the same name we'll be introducing the amazing fantasticalness of Japanese culture to you (since we live there... We have plans to visit and maybe live in China too so we'll do the same thing there, hence the panda). So that's perfect for anyone adjusting or anyone who plans to come to Japan to visit or live here. I recommend living. It's much better than dying. Though if you die here you will be cremated, everyone is cremated, so there is little chance of zombies causing much of a fuss. Did I mention I ramble? I'm a rambling man!

So yeah. Check back soon. We'll post our first introduction video and then we'll get started on the whole culture thang too. If at any point you have any questions or want us to cover a subject then just raise your hand and then I'll realize that I can't see you. Then let us know with a comment or something. We'll do our best to help you out.

Did I mention we have a cute cat?