So the New Year has arrived and I’m back in chilly Kyoto after visiting the neon lights of Tokyo. Here’s an update on what I’ve been up to over the festive period!
Father Christmases doing laps around the famous Shibuya crossing in Tokyo on Christmas Eve.
As Japan is primarily a Buddhist and Shinto country there are no Christmas celebrations as we know it. This doesn’t mean that we can escape the gaudy lights and insistent repetitions of ‘Last Christmas’, but it does mean that we eat KFC for Christmas. That’s right, the closest we can get to the culinary delight that is the traditional Christmas roast dinner, is Colonel Sanders’ very own Kentucky Fried Chicken. Needless to say, Christmas Day with my boyfriend consisted of an awful lot of chicken.
So much chicken…
KFC may be the closest thing we get to a good old fashioned turkey here, but that doesn’t mean that Christmas is only about the chicken, oh no. There are an abundance of German Christmas Markets in Japan – I’ve visited two and have my Gluhwein mugs to prove it! It’s strange to see a German market not so incredibly different from the one which I visited in Düsseldorf right here in the heart of Japan.
Whilst at Osaka’s German Christmas Market, we met this little fellow.
It may seem strange to see a dog dressed up in clothing, but here, it’s pretty common. Just that evening I spotted three, all dressed up as Santa Claus. And this is popular everywhere. There are entire shops dedicated to dog clothing, accessories, prams, dog friendly cakes, and the list goes on. Highlights so far have been a dog wearing a pair of jeans and a jacket and six sausage dogs all dressed up, assembled on a cart. If you want to spot the latest in dog fashion, head to the dog run in Yoyogi Park, Tokyo. Check out a clip of it here (don’t miss the dog sunglasses!):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxEDSqX7Yyc.
So why is there this overzealous commitment to the dressing of dogs? It seems impossible not to make the connection with the diminishing birth rate in Japan, which I studied in my class about Japanese society, and the popularity of dogs being pushed around in prams. As having children in Japan becomes more expensive and less popular, it seems that instead, people pamper their pooches as if they were their own dear offspring. Although this may seem bizarre from a Western perspective, it kind of makes sense. Having a dog won’t force you to take maternity leave, and having a dog won’t leave you to deal with mood swings rivalling that of Godzilla.
After finishing dog spotting, it was time to welcome in the New Year. As you might expect, New Year’s Eve is also celebrated rather differently to how it is in the UK. No Hootenanny, no fireworks, no countdown. Instead, there were masses and masses of people queuing to pray at shrines once the clock struck midnight. This was pretty impressive to watch – the road was closed to accommodate the swathes of people, and even the following morning, there were still hoards of people queuing. It was a fantastic atmosphere, and definitely something enlightening to learn about Japanese culture.
From the strange to the traditional, the festive period in Japan has been interesting and a lot of fun. The unimaginable is what makes this experience so fascinating, and something which I will never forget!