日本のクリスマス— A photo of a show window of a store in Shinjuku (新宿) readsメリークリスマス 日本のクリスマス (/meriikurisu’masu nihon-no-kurisu’masu/) [photo 1] The grammatical particle /no/ can mean a location or characteristics. So it can mean either “Christmas in Japan” or “Japanese Christmas.” A collaborator of mine in Tokyo has sent me many photos that were taken on the streets of Tokyo this week, some in early hours of morning. I am going to share some of them in this post.
Hachiko in Shibuya [Photo 2]: This is the statue of Hachiko, the paragon of a loyal faithful dog, outside the Shibuya Station (渋谷駅) in Tokyo. ハチ公前 (“in front of Hachi statue” /hachikoo-ma’e/) is a spot that many people use when meeting up with someone in Shibuya. He is now adorned with a green Santa Clause hat and scarf. (Someone also added a warm scarf.) During this season, it is lit up at night.
The dog named Hachi was an Akita-ken (秋田犬 /akitaken/), a large Japanese breed. The story is that when Hachi was a year old his owner died. But even after that Hachi would continue to come to the Shibuya station to wait for his master’s return from work every day. A few years later someone wrote a newspaper article about this faithful dog and that made him famous. People affectionately called him ハチ公 /hachiko’o/. A statue was made while he was still alive in 1934 with the plaque 忠犬ハチ公 (“Loyal dog Hachiko” /chuuken hachiko’o/). The kanji 忠 means “loyalty; faithfulness.” The kanji 公 is a title of a noble, but it was also used as a term of endearment for a male animal, and an adult male buddy in olden days. That sort of suffix is similar to 坊 /bo’o/ for a young boy, callingトシ坊 (“Little Toshi” /toshibo’o/). The story of being ever-loyal to his master suited the time of drummed-up patriotism to serve the country in the era of military expansion. Because of the lack of metal during the war, the original statue was melted down to help make a locomotive engine. After the war ended a new statue was made. That is what we see now. There was an American movie called “Hachi – A Dog’s Tale,” made more recently in the U. S.
Nengajo Writing Season [Photos 3 & 3b] Christmas season coincides with the time to write new-year’s day greeting cards 年賀状 /nenga’joo/. Outside a post office, next to a small lighted Christmas-like tree with a little star at the top, is a banner for 年賀はがき (“New year’s day greeting postcards” /nenga-ha’gaki/). An official New year’s day’s greeting postcard, Photo 3b, has a small lottery that goes with the purchase of the card at the bottom. Between December 15 and 25 you drop off your nengajoo in a bundle at a post office or mail box on a street. A homemade postcard, such as a postcard made from a photograph, needs to be marked as “年賀” in red and “Postcard” at the top. The post office will hold collected nengajo until the morning delivery of the 元旦 (“day of the first sun rise of a year” /gantan/.) If it is an official nenga–hagaki, they will not put a postmark on it so that it will be delivered in a pristine appearance.
A Robot by Softbank [Photo 4]– “Imagine my horror, walking 5:30 am when it’s still quiet and dark out, and this pops into sight,” wrote my collaborator. This is a consumer robot named ペッパー /pe’ppaa/ by Softbank that came out in 2015. It was standing at the entrance of a building. The company claims that it “recognizes human emotions.” My guess is that this particular robot is used as an interactive directory of tenants or some sort of customer service. On the company site there are a few videos that show how it is used. (www.softbank.jp/robot/special/pepper/) Other Japanese consumer robots that I can think of are アシモ /a’shimo/ by Honda, which walks on two legs, and アイボ /a’ibo/ by Sony, a dog like pet robot.
Ginza Streets [Photos 5 & 6] — Ginza (銀座) remains the most fashionable and sophisticated shopping areas in Japan, lined with foreign brand names and high-end traditional stores. Ginza is always lively but this time of the year it adds to the festive mood with red and green lights and a Christmas tree in front of every store along the main street.
Kitte building in Marunouchi [Photo 7] –Where the old main postal building stood, across the street from the Tokyo station in the Marunouchi (丸の内) area, now stands a new commercial building named Kitte. How do we pronounce this name? It sounds foreign. I wondered when I first went there. Is it an unaccented word /kitte/, as in a postal stamp 切手, an accented word /ki’tte/, as in 切って “please cut it,” or kit as in English? According to their web site it is the first one. A bit strange naming to me. The foyer has a lighting show in the evening, and visitors in the foyer and restaurant goers upstairs congregate to view and take a photo or movie from every floor when the show starts.
“Christmas chicken” [Photo 8] –On the way home, young people may stop by a コンビニ (“convenience store” /konbini/). Above this konbini store in Ebisu (恵比寿), it reads おうち たのしいクリスマス “At home – enjoyable Christmas,” and クリスマスチキンセール “Christmas chicken sale” on the right. Just as a big roasted Turkey is expected for the Christmas Day dinner in the U. S., a family that want to have something “Christmassy” in Japan may have a roasted whole chicken on the table. A turkey is too big for an oven in a Japanese kitchen, and it is not available in a regular Japanese store. So a roasted whole chicken is the closest thing to a Christmas Turkey. (I may add that the chicken at this store does not look like a whole chicken, and I expect that the KFC fried chicken business does very well on this day.)
It is said that Christians comprise only 1 % of the population in Japan. The number sounds too low to me, and I expect that there may be different statistics. We notice that in all the decorations on the streets in Tokyo not a single one has a religious content – They are all lights of red, green and gold, and a lot of lighted trees with a star, not an angel, on top.
クリスマスケーキ— Christians in Japan are more likely to observe the Christmas eve and Christmas day in a more austere and sober way and privately. Regardless of your faith, on the eve of Christmas day in Japan a family dinner, particularly a family with children, is likely to have a “Christmas cake.” [Photo 9; from the site of Kikakushitsu Kikyoya] Yes, there is such a thing called クリスマスケーキ /kurisumasuke’eki/. It is a round sponge cake with vanilla icing decorated with a little plastic Santa Claus, holly leaves, ribbons, and strawberries or something red. Oddly kurisumasu in Japan ends on the eve of the Christmas day.
December is a busy time in Japan. It is one of the two times yearly when bonuses are paid, so people have more spendable money. It is also the end-of-the-year gift giving time called お歳暮 /oseebo/. Oseibo is a gift that one gives to thank someone for his/her good guidance and care. It is also the time of 忘年会 (“a party to forget the passing year” /boone’nkai/). So, to retailers and restaurants, it is an important time to make profits. Then after Christmas, people hurry to get ready for New Year’s day, 正月 /shoogatsu/. The time is called 暮れ/年の暮れ (“the year-end” /kure; toshi-no-kure/) , 年末 (“the year-end” /nenmatsu/) or 年の瀬 (“last days of the year” /toshinose/). Because people have a week off from work from December 29th it is also the time for homecoming. The highways will be jammed with family cars heading for their grandparents’ home. Around on January 3, the word Uターン (“a return trip” /yuuta’an/) appears in a newspaper headline with a photo of a long snail of cars on a highway. Many people go abroad. Most companies resume work on January 4. 松の内 “the New Year Week” /matsuno’uchi/ is over on January 7, and after that everything, including school, goes back to normal.
読者のみなさま どうぞよいお年をお迎えください 憲子