Christmas is one of the most wonderful times of the year. As the songs say, it is a time for joy, a time for family, a time for presents and various other forms of merriment.
In Japan however, Christmas is very much about families and in particular couples.
Perhaps even more so than Valentine’s Day, Christmas is the time of year in Japan when couples fully express their love for each other, usually in the form of elaborate, extravagant dinners and over the top gifts.
However, for some, it can be a very depressing time. If you’re single, Christmas can be a pretty depressing time. It can often seem like you are the only man or woman in the entire universe who doesn’t have a girlfriend or boyfriend.
And even for those of us lucky enough to be in a relationship, Christmas can often be a solitary experience in Japan, as our Japanese partner, and sometimes even us too, are forced to work on Christmas Day, since Christmas is not a recognized holiday here.
It would be very easy to go all Ebenezer Scrooge on the whole thing, just say “Bah! Humbug!” and try to forget Christmas even exists. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Here are 9 ways you can still have a great Christmas in Japan, while flying solo.
Watch your favourite Christmas movie.
At this time of year your local DVD and video stores will be packed full of all your favourite Christmas movies from yesteryear. Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, Santa Claus the Movie, you name it, it’s all here, and they even have Japanese subs too, in case you want to watch with some friends. Earlier this month, I showed some of my students my personal Christmas favourite: Home Alone. Needless to say, the kids loved it, and even after all these years and dozens of viewings, it still makes me laugh out loud.
Soak up some local culture.
If you’re fortunate enough to have Christmas day off, then what better time to go visit some local museum, temple or such like. Remember Christmas is not a holiday in Japan, and as such these places will operate normal weekday working hours. On Christmas Day last year, I teamed up with a few other single friends and we had a great day exploring Kiyomizu Temple and Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto.
Go buy yourself something nice, you deserve it!
Many of the department stores and larger shops in Tokyo, Osaka and the other big cities have already started their end of year sales. Clothes, personal electronics and household items are all reduced in price. There are plenty of bargains to be had, and let’s face it; a bit of retail therapy never did anyone any harm.
Take the time to work off some of that festive excess.
For many of us, the run-up to Christmas brings with it Bonenkai season. These end of year parties for companies and schools across Japan can often get raucous with food and drink both being consumed to considerable excess. If you’re at a loose end on Christmas Day, why not take advantage of the regular opening hours at the gym. Get in a much needed workout. This will improve not only your physical but also your mental condition. It’s also a great way to burn off all that festive KFC you had with your Japanese friends the day before!
Go out and meet some new people.
These days, thanks to the likes of Facebook, Meet Up and other social networking sites, there’re plenty of opportunities to meet new people and try new activities at this time of year. If nothing else, it reminds you that you’re certainly not the only one facing up to a solitary Christmas.
Go on an adventure.
With Japan having such a great travel infrastructure, you can literally go anywhere in the country in the space of a few hours. This year I might go to Tokyo, or Hiroshima, or perhaps somewhere completely new. I haven’t decided yet. But getting out of town, even just for a day or two, and visiting a new place is another great way to use your Christmas holiday. Again, since the official Japanese New Year holidays don’t start until the 28th, transportation and hotels should still be relatively quiet. So getting that shinkansen ticket and booking that hotel room won’t be too difficult.
Try your hand at Japanese cooking.
Free time brings with it the opportunity to indulge another of my great passions, cooking. Go to your local supermarket and see what looks good. There are a variety of simple Japanese recipes on the internet that you can follow. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could maybe head to one of the larger international stores, like Costco, and try and recreate the familiar Christmas Turkey dinner you used to enjoy as a child.
Get in contact with friends and family back home.
Today, thanks to the likes of Skype, Line and Facebook, there’s really no excuse for not keeping in touch with people back home, and what better time to give your family a call than on Christmas day.
Rediscover the meaning of Christmas.
With all the commercialism and materialism of the modern world, many people today seem to have forgotten the message of hope, kindness and charity which Christmas is supposed to convey. Now is as good a time as any to rediscover it. Do some research and find out what local charities or homeless shelters may need some help over the holidays and go and help out.
If you don’t have time for that, then you can take the more direct approach. When I used to live in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, I often noticed that there were about 3 or 4 homeless people who used to seek shelter in the underpasses around Kurashiki Station. Each Christmas, I would make a point of finding these few people and giving each of them a coffee and some hot food from the local convenience store. It was an almost irrelevant gesture, costing me little more than 1000 or 2000 yen, but seeing the gratitude in their eyes and the smiles on their faces really made Christmas seem special to me.
So there you have it, here are just a few ways in which you can have a great Christmas regardless of your relationship status.
On a personal note, this will probably be the last blog I write this year. I would like to thank everyone who has been reading my work over the last few months. It has been a pleasure to see your comments and interact with some of you on social media. I hope you will continue to enjoy my work in the months and years ahead. Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year to you all!