It’s been awhile since I’ve written on Japan. This has been because of mostly the fact I’ve been here before for an extended period of time and simply ran out of things to write about. There are some things that have crossed my mind that could be interesting topics, but I’ll save those for later. This post however is on a new topic that I never got to experience the first time I was here. This time I truly got to experience Japanese life in regards to Christmas and New Years.
Christmas isn’t much different in Japan than the North American version. You still get presents for your friends and family and they still get presents for you (or else would it really be Christmas?). Unfortunately for us, and I still don’t know if this is common, we didn’t have a Christmas tree. Instead, we used some makeshift plant as a tree and put presents around it. Hooray. The stores were their usual self playing Christmas music with Christmas decorations galore. It was interesting to see the local KFC with their statue of Colonel Sanders dressed up in a Santa outfit and to see at the local mall not Santa but guess who? Ultraman. Who needs jolly old saint Nick anyway? Why not a super hero sent from space to defend Earth from aliens? Way cooler.
The most interesting Japanese holiday traditions involve New Years. I was kind of surprised at how important it is here in Japan after experiencing how similar Christmas was. Firstly, Japanese people support the Chinese astrology and subsequently the animals of the Chinese Zodiac. The new year brings the tiger to replace the cow so likewise, you see images of tigers and stuffed fluffy tigers everywhere. Secondly, New Years brings the most fun and interesting concept to shops: fukubukoro! Fukubukoro is a Japanese New Years tradition at shops where shops include random goods into a sealed container and sell it for one flat price. They tempt you with what could be in the boxes like for example some electronic stores package $500 worth of stuff into a $250 fukubukoro and hide it randomly among other lower valued fukubukoro. I did end up buying one as I’ve looked forward to this all year long. I got a Police fukubukoro for $50 that contained a necklace, bracelet, and a hat. If you know Police, you know that’s a steal. Thank god more people don’t know Police here or that price would go through the roof.
Among other things, Japanese people tend to have a very specific diet on New Years. They generally start eating a prepared meal of raw fish and traditional Japanese foods in the morning. From there, I think it’s up to the family. Specifically, we had sushi for lunch and sukiyaki for dinner, which are both still very traditional Japanese meals. Also during this time, older people are expected to give money to younger people in the amount of generally more than $100. No it’s not an early birthday gift or late Christmas gift; it’s extra.
Another interesting tradition for New Years is one I took part in early New Year’s morning. Not all Japanese do this but many have done it at least once in their lifetime. The tradition is to climb the local highest mountain, visit the mountain’s temple before sunrise, and then view the sunrise with everyone on the summit. As it can be very cold during January and at 5 – 7 am, it’s understandable people don’t do this every year. However, it is a thrilling experience when you climb a mountain in the dark and see the sun break from the clouds in the freezing cold.