Well, ‘tis the season to be merry, and I hope you all have a splendid Christmas, wherever it may be. Rest assured it will almost certainly be better than my first Christmas in Japan. Allow me to reminisce.
My 25th Christmas was the first I had spent away from my family. I’m not religious but I like Christmas. I like spending a few days with my family, eating, drinking, laughing and sharing gifts. We never go to church or anything and we aren’t one of those families who start fighting when they get pissed, so there really is nothing not to like about a Christmas spent with my kin. Still, at 24 years old, it was probably about time I had one on my own. It was rubbish.
Christmas isn’t a holiday in Japan. There is no reason it should be, but I was fortunate that it fell on a Sunday on my first year here and thus I was spared having to work. Nevertheless, the Christmas spirit was hard to find. Yes, the shops had decorations and Christmas songs on painful loops but something was lacking. On a pre-Christmas night out I didn’t try and get off with any of my colleagues and absolutely nobody tried to photocopy their arse. It just didn’t feel right.
Christmas Eve is probably more important than Christmas Day in Japan. It is a night for couples; a kind of Valentine’s Day in December. Young couples go out and eat some chicken, maybe have a bit of cake and then hop on off to a love hotel. I, on the other hand, went out and got a bit too pissed at a gaijin bar full of marines from a nearby US army base. I watched them pair off with Japanese girls looking for American boyfriends and then staggered home alone in the late early hours. I fell asleep in the entrance of my house when the taking off of my shoes became just too hard.
I awoke when the first of my guests arrived. A Christian chap who turned up with a bottle of coke. I’d invited a few fellow teachers round to celebrate Christmas Day and had foolishly suggested noonish as a starting off time. He looked like he’d been up for ages. He had. He’d been to church.
‘Were you going out?’ he asked, noticing I had my shoes on.
‘No, no,’ I assured him. ‘Just…just…have a seat, will you? Well a cushion. Mind if I take a quick shower?’
I washed the grime and shame of the night before away and hoped it wouldn’t be too long before the other two guests arrived. The two who weren’t bellends. This fellow seemed all right at work but didn’t join us much socially and I soon realised we had nothing in common. I mean, what sort of a man brings a bottle of coke round on Christmas?
The others arrived shortly later. Mark, a fellow Brit, had brought a bottle of vodka and a few beers. Penny from Canada had brought the turkey. This was to be the big treat. Turkeys aren’t easy to come by in Japan but she knew a few of the marines on the base and she had said she could definitely deliver. She did, but I’m guessing Penny wasn’t much of a cook because she turned up with a fairly large turkey still completely frozen. We all looked at my toaster oven.
‘Drink?’ I asked.
When we realized that the turkey was never going to thaw in an apartment as cold as it was outside, we ventured out to the local supermarket. We bought some chicken fillets and a few vegetables and some more beer and wine. We had no tree, no crackers, no christmas chocolates, not even any festive tunes. I was a shit host of the world’s shittiest Christmas. It was just getting pissed on a Sunday with a fairly bland meal and people you began to suspect you had become friends with simply because you lived in the same foreign country.
By nine my guests were gone. I went to a phone box and called home. I found that when you are a bit pissed it is very hard to try and sound as though you are not too pissed whilst also feigning festivity. I pretended I was just interrupting my party to call and that everything was going brilliantly. When I hung up I went to bed.
My festive mood wasn’t improved any by being back at work on Boxing Day but I held out some hope that New Year might be better. The Japanese do celebrate New Year and the school closed for a week. I needed a holiday.
In those early months I was living in Japan but not living in a Japanese world. New Year was no different. I didn’t eat noodles for longevity on December 31st. I didn’t watch the annual male singers versus female singers competition on television. I didn’t visit a shrine on New Year’s Day and buy a fortune-telling o-mikuji paper for the year ahead. I didn’t eat o-sechiryouri. I did none of those things. I went out with other foreigners to a gaijin bar and celebrated much as I had many other New Year’s Eves – with drink and the hope that somebody will find a drooling man with slurred speech and the coordination of a newly-born foal an attractive proposition as a bedfellow.
It wasn’t the best New Year’s Eve I’d ever had but neither was it the worst. I woke up with the signs that a good night had been had. I had a headache and a badger’s arse of a mouth, a slight feeling of shame and self-loathing, and what could probably be most accurately described as a girl who’s not particularly fussy.
Now, lest anybody is foolish enough to think my first Christmas in Japan is representative of what to expect, I feel duty-bound to add that I have since spent many a wonderful festive time here in Japan. It’s the company you have that makes the day, not the place you are in. So wherever you are and whomever you are with, have a lovely time. And try not to fall asleep in the genkan.