No matter what holiday you celebrate during December, we all know that nobody can escape the decorated deciduous trees, rosy-cheeked santa clauses, and the Christmas music that has been overplayed on the radio since the day after Halloween. I personally love all of these things, but I know that other people feel differently. I am here to tell everyone that you can not avoid this holiday simply by leaving The United States, at least not if you are running away to Japan. But whether you are a person who hates the holidays, or a person like me who believes that Christmas should be every day of the year, it is no doubt interesting to experience a familiar holiday in a foreign country.
Just like in The United States, on my commute to school the Monday after Halloween, I was already admiring the festive decorations on display. In fact, there was probably more decorations in Japan at this time than in The U.S.A. because there is, of course, no Thanksgiving between Halloween and Christmas here. The most decorated place I saw was my city’s main train station that had decorated its entire outside with lights and fake trees. It was nice to look at during the day, but when it was set all a-glow at night it was actually quite breathtaking. The decorating here in Japan is all in all the same as it would be in the United States, no real differences there. Well, no big difference besides the fact that Christmas trees are always plastic trees. I am aware that plastic trees are very common back in the West, but I personally am more familiar with a natural tree since I happen to come from the Pine Tree State. Plastic trees do certainly have their perks, especially when you consider that they don’t make a new carpet of needles for you to sweep up every time someone brushes against it.
The main difference I found between Christmas in The United States and in Japan is the food. My real family back in the States were kind enough to send me packages with various Christmas sweets inside, much to my delight. But I was surprised when sharing these sweets with my friends and host family in Japan. Mint is not a commonly-liked flavor here, and it is certainly not considered a Christmassy one. Although I was a little shocked, I was not complaining, because that leave more candy for me. The big difference between Christmas food in The U.S.A and in Japan is the main course. In The United States it is typical for a family to have a main course of ham, or beef, or turkey. But in Japan it is usually chicken. Kentucky Fried Chicken, to be exact. Kentucky Fried Chicken has managed to convince the entire country of Japan that their food is what westerners eat on Christmas. I am not joking. Although it is certainly a lie, I was more than happy to eat fried chicken on Christmas, even if it isn’t what I was used to. It most definitely helped that my family’s Christmas fried chicken was homemade, and therefore extremely delicious.
With food checked off the list, there is really only one other difference I want to mention: the placement of Christmas presents. Christmas trees in Japan are smaller than back home because they need to be stored for the majority of the year, and because of this there is very little room for presents under the tree. Japanese people have found a new place for Santa’s presents. Instead of under the tree, presents are placed next to the sleeping child’s head until they wake in the morning. This is easy because a lot of people here sleep on the ground on futons. It’s an efficient solution to the problem, and it even adds some magic to Christmas day when children wonder how Santa didn’t wake them when he had to come so close.
I would like to thank my friends and host family here in Japan, along with my all friends and family back in the United States, for allowing me to have a wonderful holiday season. I loved learning about the differences between the cultures, and experiencing something familiar in a new way. I hope that everyone back at home had a merry Christmas, if you celebrate of course.
Eve Corbett is a junior at Lincoln Academy, currently spending the school year in Okayama, Japan with Greenheart Travel. She is the daughter of Jody Corbett and Elizabeth Proffetty of Newcastle.