Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas in Japan

And yes, it is Christmas time again! Deck the halls with boughs of holly… falalalalalala… I'd prefer hay than holly, but since it is the season to be jolly, we should follow the usual tradition.

Wait! What tradition? This year I'm spending the end of December in Japan, and here, anything goes, Christmas or not! So let's talk about Christmas in Japan for a bit, because it is really quite interesting how this very western holiday has adapted to the peculiar Japanese ways.

Of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without a Christmas tree, and they have plenty of those here. Everywhere. 

Christmas is not an official holiday in Japan. It's not a red day in the calendar, and in fact, it's just an ordinary day. Kids go to school, mommies and daddies go to work. Nothing special. Because of that, it can be celebrated either on December 24th or 25th, depending on people's schedules. Its status is similar to that of other borrowed western occasions - Halloween or Valentine's Day. It's only purpose is to make the economy happy and convince the people to spend, spend and spend some more.

A few years (or decades) back, Christmas was a very romantic occasion, marked mostly by lovey dovey couples going out to dinner, exchanging small gifts and sharing a piece of very pretty and very Japanese style Christmas cake.

Then, as it usually goes, those couples got married, had kids and the advertisers discovered a very simple truth. That families spend more money, and thus are better for business than two young people in love. Young people usually don't have much disposable income, and families have what all advertisers love the most - kids! And kids, as everybody who's ever had one, knows very well, are bottomless money pits. Kids = Christmas presents =  profits = happy store owners. Everybody wins.

And the transformation of Christmas in Japan from a romantic couples occasion into a full blown family event was set. The transformation has been incredibly successful, and anyone who's had the misfortune of visiting Toys R Us in Japan before December 24th can confirm that.

Ok, so let's recap what we've learned about Christmas in Japan so far:

·     Christmas tree - check
·     Presents - check
·     Shopping mayhem at toy stores - check
·     Christmas sales everywhere from department stores to car dealers - check

Hmmm… so far nothing unusual, just like in the US or Europe. 

·    Christmas cake - check

Oh, wait!!! This is not what you think it is. Japanese Christmas cake is one of those very peculiar Japanese-only inventions that you can't really find anywhere else in the world. Why? Because December in Japan is the beginning of the strawberry season. Yes, strawberry. And a traditional Japanese Christmas cake wouldn't be traditional without strawberries and cream. 

White cream, chocolate cream, strawberries. Yummy!!! Strawberry shortcake for Christmas is a really great idea. Or perhaps we could try a less traditional cake this year? A strawberry grand piano! That's it! 

Of course no sane person attempts to make such a cake at home. That would be extremely difficult, especially considering the fact that most Japanese homes don't have a baking oven. Cakes are ordered at supermarkets and cake shops and then picked up at the appropriate date.

So is the chicken. Wait?! What chicken? KFC chicken? For Christmas? And yes. But only in Japan … 

Back in the 70s or so, ancient history, when the marketing geniuses were debating how to convince the Japanese public to embrace Christmas, they realized that every good holiday needs a good holiday dinner. Right? They knew that turkey was the holiday dinner of choice in the US and a few other countries. But turkey is so big and so tough, and has such a strong flavor. Not suitable for delicate Japanese stomachs! (Yes, they do believe they have delicate stomachs and unlike the western barbarians, they need more delicate fare.)

But hey, everybody loves fried chicken. KFC saw an untapped market niche and started promoting KFC Christmas fried chicken buckets. And that's how a new Christmas tradition was born.

So, they eat fried chicken and cake, but what do they drink? Oh, that's easy! Imitation alcohol-free bubbly! They call it Chanmerry here (sounds a lot fancier than flavored soda) and are convinced that it's a traditional Christmas drink all over the world.

And now, if you excuse me, I have to make sure that my friends remembered to place their holiday cake and KFC orders.
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Wherever you are today my friends, in this special period of the year, I wish you that you never loose the power to dream. And then all your dreams will come true one day, I am sure. 

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