December 29, 2006
Apparently the holiday season is just as hectic in Japan as it is back home, although the reasons are completely reversed. Japan’s Shogatsu (New Year’s) is like America’s Christmas, and vice versa. Christmas here is not terribly important: just another consumer holiday spent with friends or a date, if celebrated at all. By Christmas morning it’s all but forgotten as everyone looks ahead to the most important holiday of the year: Shogatsu. Suddenly there’s a flurry of activity and preparation as families clean, decorate, write hundreds of New Year’s postcards (nengajo) for all their friends and family members (which will be delivered in huge bundles on January 1), receive gifts of apples and snacks in huge boxes, and buy sacks and sacks of groceries. Shogatsu is the family holiday with religious connotations, and it’s only now, after Christmas, that I feel the excitement of the holidays.
Old habits die hard though, and we exchange students just couldn’t imagine not celebrating Christmas, so we decided to throw a party for our friends and families in Yamaguchi. A couple weeks of planning, three days of cooking and one really full refrigerator later and we were ready for the party. All the pies, lasagnas, salads, and sides filled Kiyoshi-san’s van to the brim, but were just about right for the 30 or so people who joined us for dinner.
It was great to be able to do something nice for all these people who have been so kind to us, and a perfect way to celebrate Christmas.
By the 26th, though, the holiday was virtually forgotten. Early that morning we packed up our backpacks and hopped on a shinkansen (bullet train) bound for Kyoto. Once the imperial capital of Japan, Kyoto is full of fantastic temples and shrines which now stand as beautifully preserved monuments to the past.