25 DECEMBER: A JAPMAS CHRISTMAS
by Blake More (TM)
Imagine if you will:
MERRY HAPPY CHRISTMAS SALE
BIG XMAS BARGIN
SANTA CLAUS BUY
Billboards all over Tokyo literally shout as theyíve been doing since late October. The retailers grin, counting their holiday cheer. No Halloween or Thanksgiving to hurry through, the calendar is wide open, the countdown as long as a silk kimono priced by the yard. "What is jack-o-rantern", one young salesgirl asks as she hangs the last Christmas wreath in the department store window display , unaware that a Macyís employee would lose his job if he strung the colored lights before scattering fall leaves and setting up the cornucopia centerpiece. No, this is Japan, and oblivious of the strict codes of Christmas retail decorum, Tokyo shop owners drape their Mary Bargain signs and stock up on extra shopping bags. Then, the innocent masses come, line up and buy, buy, buy.
Here's a small stockingful of examples:
Lumps of Technocrap: Between prime time game shows on a major Japanese television network, a white family of five---two parents, older boy, younger girl, German Shepherd---load red and green boxes into the back of a Toyota SUV (a new import from America). A partially-grown Christmas tree sparkles back at them through their snow-dusted livingroom window. Dad, cozy in his Brooks Brothers hunting jacket, lowers the last package and shuts the hatch, pausing to gloat as he watches his family climb into the white vehicle (white, of course, being the most popular car color in Japan). He takes his place behind the wheel, the camera sweeps around and, like a Disney cartoon, everyone smiles, especially the dog. The image fades with the sounds of them heading over the river and through the woods to Grandma-sanís house. It is up to the viewer to decide what is for sale.
KFC Nuggets and Gristle: No, it isnít a Star Wars opening, itís the queue for Kentucky Fried Chicken; this acronym of culinary atrocity flanked by a block-length line of hungry nationals determined to celebrate Christmas the traditional way, like we do in America, with a bucket of extra antibiotic, hormone-infused crispy white and dark meat, re-hydrated mashed potatoes, slaw mayonnaise, and wonderbread dinner rolls. If they make it through the KFC fray, those with an appetite for sugar and a decent paycheck to blow, needle their way through the people spilling in and out of department stores, and hopefully find one of the elite specialty bakeries offering seasonal Merry Greetings buttercakes, an odd cake, something like a swollen petite four, slick marzipan warted with painted sugar cube wreaths, trees, and bearded white men. A creation that would even appall Martha Stewart .
Nearly the Night Before: A youth in baggy pants, tanning booth brown skin, hair permed into afroshen kink, a baseball cap with "Gangsta" embroidered across the brow and a sweatshirt bearing a cantaloupe-sized eight ball weaves his way among three rows of Charlie Brown trees tilting and lilting and wilting on a Shinjuku patch of concrete. Since time belongs to his boss and all the trees are pretty much dying anyway, he chooses quickly. Thirty thousand yen; three hundred dollars. He lifts the amputated treetop and perches it, parot-like atop his shoulder, then, still managing to walk with that dope, homeboy shuffle he learned from snoop doggy on pirate MTV music videos, disappears down the four-lane sidewalk.
I saw Jesus Kissing Santa Claus: A married couple walks into a Shibuya love hotel (does anyone know what a love hotel is? Yeah, it is where couples, married and otherwise, go for a tête-à-tête, a brief slice of connubial bliss without the deep breathing of parents, grandparents, children). The couple checks into the festively themed "Holiday Room." Theyíve been waiting six years to be among those lucky enough to have their 90 minute session scheduled on this trendy day of celebration---to make Christmas love beneath a wall mural depicting a crucified Santa Claus, jingle bells mounted on the creaky headboard, going all the way as they ride on a one horse open mattress.
1984: In another part of town, a Tokyo university student participates in an X-Mas ritual mandated by some of the straighter, more upwardly mobile youth culture (as in those seeking bureaucratic appointments). Upholding tradition, he plants a room key in his girlfriends backpack and waits for her on the twenty-fifth floor of the glitzy Akasaka Prince Hotel. It is a pitiful post-Regan sight: all of his allowance gone, a bottle of champagne and a bento box of fancy sushi on the table, him sitting alone in his navy blue suit, fondling a blue and white Tiffanyís box---she had said it better have an 24 karat gold heart floating inside. Although not allowed to express it, heís hoping sheíll admire his efforts and open up an outlet for his yuletide log.
There you have it, or as the locals would say, We Hope You Are A Verily Happy Christmas. While just a small sampling of Tokyoís Holiday Madness. A wildly refreshing insanity, one without Christ or mass. A season free of hypocrisy, suicide and wooden pews. No in-laws to battle. Food to eat. Presents to open. Itís all the twinkle-lit glory of commercialism borrowed and perfected into a day that would make Madison Avenue squeal. Imagine a December 25th where you donít have to fake your holiday spirit. You just have to decorate your tree and buy. Maybe the Japanese are better imitators than we think.
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