Sunday, December 14, 2008


Eight years ago, I was living and working in Japan. I decided to save money and not travel during the holidays. My Japanese Christmas was an interesting experience.

Since Japan is not a Christian-based country, Christmas is not an official holiday. I worked a full day on the 24th and then had Christmas Day off only because it fell on a Saturday. Many businesses had Christmas trees and lights set up, and many also were selling Christmas merchandise, but the approach was distinctly different from my experience here in the U.S. (If you think Christmas is a totally commercial affair here, you really should see what it is in Japan. It will probably make you sick.) Just like here, there were many Christmas specials on TV, but again, with a distinctive, let's call it an outright WARP on what I consider to be the original in this country. This is what I wish to tell you about today.

Spending Christmas Eve and Day alone, I had decided to treat myself and had a decadent dinner of seafood and other luxuries at home, in front of my TV. I cranked the little heater to blast as high as it could, covered my legs in blankets, and turned on another space heater. My apartment in Gifu was built right after the war (that's my estimate, anyway), was not insulated, had no central heating system, and the wind would blow through the apartment because the windows weren't really sealed. Since I was splurging, I took all measured to get comfy.

Then I turned on the TV. I'm sure that I had rented a stack of videos (past seasons of X-files and Ally McBeal), but I am a huge fan of Japanese TV. Entertainment to the utmost level, y'all. I settled on a Christmas special featuring the biggest pop stars in the country singing Christmas carols. My two favorite were:

1. An oversized girl group called "Morning Musume" singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in English. For you non-Japanese speakers out there, the hard "y" sound us a bit tricky for the native Japanese speaker. Here's how the song went: "We wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, we wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Ear! And a Happy New Ear! New Ear!" They kept singing "New Ear" over and over again. My ears were overjoyed with the unintended comedy. Thank you Morning Musume.

2. A very popular pop singer, singing in what appeared to be a chapel with a gospel choir as back-up. And not just any old gospel choir, a very distinctly Southern Baptist-looking choir. The music started, slowly--organ music. Very fitting for the scene and I was pleasantly surprised to see a religious take on this program. Then the pop singer started in--a lively rendition, in English, of "Jingle Bell Rock." I'm sure my neighbors thought the American in A405 had gone nuts. I was laughing uncontrollably.

Even though I was on my own that year, it remains one of my favorite Christmases. It was most certainly a different take on the holiday. Merry Christmas and Happy New Ear!

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