Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas in Tokyo

This time of year, Japan is all decked out with lights, wreaths, and Christmas trees. Yes, it's a Buddhist/Shinto country where Christian missionaries never had much success, but it's also the second largest economy in the world, and the commercial side of Christmas has caught on in a big way.
Interestingly, the "traditions" that most Japanese families have adopted for the holiday include eating Kentucky Fried Chicken and Christmas Cake, which is usually a strawberry shortcake ordered from a bakery, department store, or supermarket. As you can see in the brochure above, there are other options - notably, the ever-popular Mont Blanc transformed into a multi-serving-sized cake - but strawberries are classic. Even the supermarket produce section has strawberries on special right now, presumably because some enterprising housewives will make their own.
It's not just pastry shops that get into the holiday spirit. This is the display in the front window of Mame-Gen, the old-fashioned bean-snack shop near Azabu Juban station. There are similar displays all over the neighborhood. The 100-yen shop nearby has been blasting Christmas music all day long for about a month now, and has plastic wreaths and tinsel for sale front and center. The florists have bonsai-sized Christmas trees and poinsettias for sale. There are lights strung on trees and buildings everywhere, and today when I was in Ginza I saw a green-suited Santa greeting customers in front of one store. A little Japanese kid seemed confused by the green suit, but wasn't that once traditional in Europe? It made me think of the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol, anyway.
There are tasteful decorations in many parts of town, including the beautiful blue-and-white lights all over Midtown and Roppongi Hills, and the understated rows of triangular trees sparkling with only white lights in Ginza, but Shibuya is not necessarily the place to go looking for high taste. The decorations are big, bright, and campy. It's a teen hangout, and since Christmas is one of the most romantic nights of the year in Japan, second only to Valentine's Day, I'm sure there will be plenty of kids on dates strolling under the crown along "Christmas Lane" next week.

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