Here’s an incomplete and completely subjective description of my experience with Christmas in Japan, the first of the two posts I announced in the new year’s post.
I think it was beginning of November when I noticed the first Christmas decoration: 7-Eleven stores had banners hanging over the entrance with AKB48 girls in Santa style clothes and started selling products branded in the same way.
Generally there is less Christmas decoration around here than I’m used to from Germany, but what there is is extremely colorful as seen below. Other examples: The construction workers at a site next to the university equipped a crane with lights in blue and white, trees in the shopping area were decorated with lights in many different colors and during the Christmas days I saw people distributing advertisements while dressed in Santa costumes.
Unless you go to a church like I do (Sendai Baptist Church), you won’t notice much of Christmas in Japan beyond decoration. There are no Christmas holidays, so I was able to do some necessary shopping on the 25th, during which I was surprised by something that looked like an inflatable Buddha statue with a Santa Claus costume hanging from the roof of the shopping arcade in front of a temple.
During lunch on new year’s day I showed that picture around and actually got an explanation what character it is supposed to be: “仙台太郎” (Sendai-Taro). The story behind him is as follows:
A long time ago there was a simple-minded person wandering around in Sendai, seeking help from the local merchants. Most shooed him away, but the businesses of those who helped him thrived. Because of this, at some point people started worshiping him as some kind of local “merchant god”.
The pose is supposedly typical, and I also recognized “Sendai-Taro” on flags advertising the traditional new year’s sale, which is held from the 2nd of January for about four days. When I went to downtown yesterday, I even saw someone dressed as Taro sitting in front of the temple in the picture above.
Advent decoration in our church was about what I’m used to, and the church service on Christmas Eve was not very different either. Music parts were alternating with reading of the Christmas story, there was a short sermon and a lot of singing. Everyone got candles at the entrance, which were all lit after the sermon before singing again. Because of that it was called a “candlelight service”. It started snowing when I left my home to go to church, and when it was over, there was a noticeable amount of snow on the ground, which was quite a surprise. 🙂 The next morning I took the following picture of something you don’t see in Germany.