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!