OK I'm back from a week of no internet access. Not no news access so I'm aware of all the sad events going on everywhere and Japanese TV has been dilligently showing pictures of the tsunami and its aftermath...
Anyway, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I took a day off from sightseeing in and around Nara to visit a former college freind of her's (and husband) in Okayama and together we went to nearby Kurashiki, a town with acompact but rather pretty tourist district with relatively old buildings and various museums and art galleries. There may be certain travelogues to result from this trip and the Fotolog will certainly benefit from an oriental tone over the next few days and weeks but this post is about how bizarre it is to spend Christmas in a country with only a vague, Disneyfied comprehension of the day.
How can I start? well lets say that Santa Claus is generally sepaking well understood in the Coca-cola marketing Ho Ho Ho sense. Indeed more so that poor old Jesus. Then there are the Christmas carols played as muzack. Then there is, of ocurse, the general lack of churches or indeed Christians. It's all very strange and the strangeness is compounded by the way that Christmas is just another day. This year it was, fortunately, a Saturday so most people weren't actually working but it was just a regular Saturday, albeit one with occasional outbreaks of red hats, fake snow and Jingle Bells. In the various Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples of course Christmas doesn't get a mention, indeed its all rather advent-like in that everyone is busy scrubbign and cleaning in preparation for New Year, which is the Japanese midwinter celebration.
Our day started with breakfast in our hotel in Nara, this was completely and utterly nothing at all christmassy since it was a chinese breakfast (noodles, scrambled eggs...), however the day had dawned fair and on the dinky little train to Kyoto the sun was shining and all was apparently well with the world. Then on the Shinkansen things remained fair albeit with occasional cloud until we approached Okayama at which point the sun gave up the struggle and dull grey was the order of the day. We met Wada-san and husband (Wada is her maiden name, Kodota is my wife's - they spent the whole time calling each other variants on Wada or Kadota despite that not being their actual names anymore) and decided that the first order of business was lunch. Lunch was Okonomiyaki, which is not exactly traditional christmas fare either but is one of my favourite sorts of Japanese food so it went down really well. Then we drove to Kurashiki and did the tourist bit. It was cold and damp, but the company was good so we didn't mind. Once we'd done everything possible we headed back to Okayama. On the way back I got a rather good sunset view as we waited at a traffic light which made up for the lack of sun earlier. The boss blamed the lack of sun on Wada-san who is apparently a rain goddess, and therefore not someone you want to invite to a garden party but is good for places which are suffering from drought. The return to Nara was uneventful and we ended up having a late dinner in a nearby Japanese curry shop - those of my readers of British descent who think of vindaloo and onion bhajee when you hear the word curry would be shocked. Japanese curry has deviated significantly from this version but it is generally tasty, filling and remarkably cheap. This particular shop allowed choices in curry spiciness (on a numeric scale from 0 to 6). I picked a 4 which was hot but nothing to a man who's eaten many a phal after a good session in the pub.
All in all it was a very pleasant Christmas, but it totally lacked the turkey, mince pies, christmas pudding and family squabbles and all the other bits and bobs that make a traditional Christmas - I doubt I'll repeat it but it was fun.