merry christmas 2014

christmas in ikebukuro

This is the Christmas tree in the center of The Hotel Metropolitan in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan. It stretches a good two stories above the lobby floor. It’s covered in an immense number of glass decorations and lights. At any given moment, from the early morning until late in the evening, someone was having their photo taken in front of the tree. It was that popular. I had to wait a few moments for this relatively free view.

Shinto and Buddhism are the two primary Japanese religions. This is not to say that there are no Christian adherents in Japan. Japan was first exposed to Christianity, through Roman Catholicism, in the latter half of the sixteenth century. Unfortunately for the Franciscans who were performing missionary work in western Japan at the time, they wound up being banned and persecuted, starting in the turn of the seventeenth century. Christians would remain persecuted until 1873, when Protestants would begin missionary work anew. The celebration of Christmas itself didn’t become popular with the general non-Christian population like it is today until after World War II.

Today the Japanese seem to celebrate Christmas with the same fervor we do in the U.S. There are decorations and lights everywhere, and Christmas music (carols and more secular songs) is constantly playing in the background, in English. Yet, there are some things missing from Christmas in Japan. Yet there are no creches, no manger scenes. Nothing that overtly calls out to the Christian elements of Christmas. The celebration seems far more secular at least to a westerner such as myself.

This is not a criticism of the Japanese. I see way too much secularism in our Christmas celebrations. Way to much emphasis on Black Friday’s and Cyber Mondays. Being a photographer and a traveler I get constantly bombarded with emails advertising all sorts of special holiday sales on camera and electronics gear and travel destinations. I can easily ignore all that because I’m already too broke to buy anything else after about mid-November, and I’ve had about all the travel I can handle by the time I come home from Japan. I’m all tapped out. And yet the exhortation to “Buy! Buy! Buy!” keeps coming at me from all sides. I manage to tune all that out because I’m broke – and too numb to pay attention anymore.

This Christmas eve is the quiet before the hectic Christmas day. Tomorrow I’m going to spend time with both grown daughters, one for lunch and the other for dinner. We’re going to be even more busy on Christmas day than we were when the girls were little and living at home.

To me that’s the real gift this time of year, being with our girls and their respective boy friends, sharing what everyone is doing with their lives. I guess I managed not to make too may mistakes as a dad; they still want to see me and spend time with me. Time with my girls is the most precious gift of all, especially at Christmas.