Christmas is now well behind us, and we’re getting through 2015 at a steady pace (60 seconds per minute, more or less). Before it gets too much further away, I thought I’d talk a little about some of the more unexpected aspects of the holiday. My first Christmas in Japan was a lot stranger than I was expecting.
I had known some of what was in store for me, of course. Japan hasn’t taken Christianity on board to any great extent, so I was not expecting much acknowledgement of any religious elements to the festival. I knew that it wasn’t accorded any particular significance in terms of shopping or preparation, so there wouldn’t be much in the way of crowds or displays because of the season (frankly, considering what a madhouse any modest-size NZ town turns into in the weeks leading up Christmas, that came as something of a relief). And I had also known that it was more or less just another working day, although when it rolled around and turned out in exactly that way it did feel a bit weird.
What I hadn’t predicted was Christmas dinner, although I suppose I really should have. This is Japan: most people don’t have an oven big enough to roast a moderately large pigeon, let alone a turkey, and they’re not the sort of thing you see in the stores anyway. So, in a marketing success that is surely the envy of other chains, KFC – yes, that KFC – have managed to convince everyone that a bucket of fried chicken is a suitably traditional meal for the occasion.
This has led, entirely predictably, to pretty much every convenience store offering something along the same lines in an effort to cash in on all that greasy, slightly funny-smelling sentiment. ‘Tis the season, and all that. I also wasn’t expecting the Christmas cake. I was not mentally prepared for being presented with anything like this.
I’m a fairly traditional chap in some ways and my idea of a traditional Christmas cake involves dried fruit, a rich flavour, and a pretty solid eating experience.
All in all, then, there were a few surprises for me. But you know, all of the ones I’ve talked about so far were the sort of thing that you could reasonably put down to either practicalities, differing tastes, or the sort of differences that inevitably creep in when you take a festival from an assemblage of traditions, translate it across language and cultural borders, and insert it in another society entirely. None of them are the reason this might just have been my weirdest Christmas ever.
This is. This looks like a gigantic illuminated mandarin orange made up of hundreds of smaller mandarin oranges. And it looks like that because that’s exactly what it is. This was my first sign that the “Christmas festival” I had been invited to was not going to be the sort of thing that I was used to. It turns out that I had actually been invited to the “X’mas Orange Festival”, which was remarkably accurately named (wanton cruelty to apostrophes notwithstanding). Oranges are a traditional Japanese winter food, but there’s more to it than that. See, the area it took place in is famous for growing oranges. I’ve had some, and they’re legitimately good oranges – juicy, sweet, and altogether a superior citrus experience. The people who live here are very proud of their oranges.
Very, VERY proud.
There was orange soy sauce. There was a baseball team named after oranges. There were oranges which had somehow been induced to grow into heart shapes, then lovingly wrapped in straw and sealed in boxes to be given as romantic gifts. There were oranges available for eating, but who wants to do that?
There was a visit from Mikyan, the official prefectural mascot, who is – and I am not making this up – a dog that has been fused with an orange.
And of course, since this was Christmas after all, there were Christmas trees. But they all had something different about them.
I guess they really like their fucking oranges around here.
Question of the post: What festival experience has caught you most off-guard? Was it an adaption of something you thought you knew about?