Well, the stockings are hung by the chimney with care, and we’re all getting ready for a wonderful Christmas around here. My family got in from Japan a few days ago, and the kids are fully into “American Christmas mode,” shaking all the presents to try to guess what’s inside. The holiday is a relatively recent cultural import to Japan, and Christmas there can be a little different from what you may be used to. To the Japanese, Christmas is usually more of an excuse to have a fun party than a solemn time for family, or more recently, an extra reason for parents and grandparents to spoil the kids by getting them something from Toys “R” Us. Christmas Eve is also a day for lovers to go on that special date, generally considered more important than Valentine’s Day, and if you want to take your sweetheart out to a nice restaurant you might have to plan ahead a few months.
I’ll never forget my first Christmas in Japan. I’d not expected the Japanese to be very religious, so after arriving in my city I was surprised to find myself surrounded by a kind community of Japanese Baptists who ran a friendly church complete with a kindergarten for the local children. I enjoyed observing my new friends and seeing how similar they were to folks in the U.S. — there seemed to be no differences at all, other than the language. In the grand tradition of Americans living in Japan, I was asked to play “Santa-san” for the kids, and I had great fun ho-ho-ho‘ing as I handed out presents, as always being careful to speak only English, since that’s what language Santa Claus presumably speaks. (I’ve since donned Santa suits dozens of times — there must be something especially Christmassy about my personality as seen from the Japanese point of view.) I was of course surprised to find that Dec. 25th wasn’t even a holiday in Japan, and driving in a traffic jam on that particular day takes some getting used to, I can tell you. One unfortunate aspect of Christmas for foreigners who haven’t been “in country” too long is homesickness, since Dec. 25th is always a hard day to be away from family, no matter where you are in the world. Bottom line, Japan is a nice place, but the best place to enjoy Christmas is home with the people you love. All of us at J-List sincerely wish you and your loved ones a wonderful and warm Christmas holiday this year!
I’ll never forget my single days back in college, surviving on foods like frozen waffles, Campbell’s soup, Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and that great friend to the pool college student, Top Ramen, which could be had for 3 for $1 back in the day. Japan has its own varieties of “bachelor food” too, so easy to make that even a single guy could handle it. First and foremost is the category known as “cup ramen,” which seems to be as close to the hearts of Japanese consumers as cold cereal is to Americans. There are hundreds of varieties, from cheap noodles in a styrofoam bowl to the high-end “nama type” noodles which are fresh, not dehydrated, for a more authentic ramen experience. Next comes Bon Curry, boil-in-bag curry that allows you single men who can’t prepare Japan’s staple dish from scratch to enjoy it nonetheless. Poor men living alone love to eat “sea chicken” (tuna fish) mixed with mayonnaise spread over rice with a dollop of soy sauce, too. Japan is a country that puts great store in doing things the “proper” way, and when it comes to a single man (or woman) living alone, this is defined by cooking rice using a rice cooker on a daily basis. When I was living alone, everyone I knew would ask me “Are you cooking rice for yourself everyday, as you should?” almost as a greeting, not unlike “How are you?” They were invariably amazed that a foreigner could wash and prepare rice for himself without help.