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...