In Kanazawa, the trees covered in yukitsuri (雪つり), ropes that protect the them from snow, and the trees with holiday (LED) lights stand side-by-side near the station. Every year, plenty of news media and bloggers cover Japanese Christmas traditions from KFC and Christmas cake to Christmas Eve as a romantic date night. What does December in Japan for an expat look like on an individual level?
I had so much fun documenting Halloween in Japan that I thought readers might be interested in a more take on the holiday season here in Japan. Since I was raised celebrating Christmas as a mostly secular holiday and have adopted some Japanese new year’s customs since moving here, I’ll be focusing mainly on those two holidays.
The first time you spend a major holiday abroad, you often feel despair. My first Thanksgiving in Japan was spent in Osaka as a foreign-exchange student. I remember being very sad that I was eating cold tofu on campus alone instead of seeing my family and eating turkey. Turkey is still pretty hard to come by in most of Japan, and even though turkeys are more widely available online, they are pricey and a pain to cook unless you have a larger oven.* The people I know tend to have one of two reactions to the prospect of spending the end of December in Japan: 1. go home and see the family, or 2. go on a fabulous tropical vacation.
For me, my expat Christmas plans went as follows:
2009: I miss my family! Solution: go home for two weeks.
2010: I just went home for a wedding in the fall and don’t have the cash or vacation time to spend on another trip, and I’m okay with this, as long as I don’t have to be alone on Christmas. Solution: spend Christmas day driving around the Noto peninsula with a fellow expat friend from my hometown before settling in for a homemade meal, some Christmas-flavored Mystery Science Theater 3000, and copious amounts of mulled wine.
2011: Christmas can be whatever I want it to be!
I will not be taking a fabulous vacation this year because my vacation time at the new job doesn’t kick in until the new year, so in the month leading up to my expat Christmas and to my semi-Japanese New Year’s, I’m doing my best to enjoy what I like about December in Kanazawa. Will we give into the KFC and cake madness and go 福袋 (fukubukuro, lucky bag) hunting? Will we give in and buy a Christmas tree or a turkey? Stay tuned for my adventures in winter holidays as an expat. Let’s Merry!**
*I actually hosted this year’s Thanksgiving, so clearly I’m not above dropping 4000 yen and then some on a bird and cooking it in my fancy oven range.
**This is the Starbucks Engrish motto for the holiday flavors. Just–why?