Thursday, December 23, 2004

where am I gonna get a date for christmas?

It's extremely telling that the song you hear most often in Japan in late December has nothing to do with Santa, presents, goodwill towards men or maids-a-milking. I was 5 years old when Wham's "Last Christmas" topped the charts, and being the media-phobe that I am, it took me twenty years and a trip halfway round the world to learn that last Christmas, George Michael gave you his heart, and the very next day you gave it away. This year, to save himself from tears, he's gonna give it to someone special. You're such an asshole.

This tune about George Michael's yuletide heart transplant comes flying at you from every corner fashion boutique, every convenience store, every junior high school band fundrasing on the street, and every snotnose who picks up a guitar, wraps a scarf around his neck and whines out pop tunes to the huddled holiday shoppers too busy to listen to that song again. There have been a few Japanese remakes of the tune and even the hit TV drama "Last Christmas" that employs it as the theme song. With no trace of irony, the show is about the professional and romantic entanglements of a hip young advertising exec. He does not experience any epiphanies about how his work ruins Christmas. In Asia, advertising makes Christmas. Just one of those quirks of fate that wherever corporate capitalism goes it brings canned yuletide cheer, store window cardboard Santas and muzak renditions of jingle bells. Korea, Taiwan, Thailand; Japan isn't the exception, it's the Asian Christmas pioneer.

Christmas in Japan is overwhelmingly a singles holiday. Families with young children give presents, but it's all one way, and pretty much over by the time they get old enough to realize Santa didn't bring them that copy of Metro Prime Hunters for their Nintendo DS. No, Christmas is when young lovers huddle together in coats and scarves, heads bare to let their tussled hair catch snowflakes. Wander down to the local irumineishon (say it out loud) to ooh and ah at the multicolored lights, and buy a few pieces of Kurisumasu Keiki. This year's cake prices are about 50% higher than usual due to a shortage of eggs, but they'll still sell out, cause what is Christmas in Japan without cake?

Oh yes, presents are involved, but while the thought is all nice and good, it comes down to the price tag. One of my housemates bought his girlfriend a pair of $60 earrings, and he said he was skimping since he doesn't have any income right now. Ouch.

Which leaves me with a dilemna. With everyone I know going out with a significant or not-so-significant other on the 25th, I'm left with an empty house, a small stack of Christmas presents lovingly sent from home (thanks Mom and Dad!) and George Michael singing over and over again in my head. Wonder if he's busy this year...

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Did you see the December 23rd New York Times article about Yon-sama's popularity? Check it out, and I'm curious about your perception of the phenomenon. Yes, it's the middle aged Japanese women who are gaga over the Korean TV star, but you've also talked about the allure of the foreigner to your generation of Japanese women. Maybe you have something to add to the NYTimes article? Enjoying your blog immensely, and check for it daily, bringing a breath of the exotic into upstate New York. Merry Christmas, Jamie, and love from your aunt. Not quite anonymous. . .

Jamie said...

Ah, Bei Yon Jun. Aka Yon-sama (way above -san, -sama is a suffix used only for emperors, gods and angelic Korean TV stars). I've actually considered doing an entry all about the Yon-sama phenomenon. It's a bit bewildering. Half of Japan is gaga over the guy and the over half just doesn't get it at all. I don't know if they included it in the NYT article, but his trip to Tokyo last month was unbelievable. I can't remember the numbers very clearly, but something like 2000 people (mostly women 30-50 years old) were jammed outside the hotel to get a glimpse of him, and when he came out it turned into a near riot, with 8 fans hospitalized. I saw it on the news with Mrs. Kaneko, and she laughed cynically when she heard the news. "Nihon no obasan no pawa ga sugio na..." The power of Japanese old ladies...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the article has a lot about the riot. Also the psychology of the phenomenon of his popularity, and the economic boom it has spawned. I found it online, and you could too. Glad you plan to write about it, as I'm eager to have your observations -- written in your delightful style! Merry Christmas again. . .