Monday, December 22, 2003



"Ho-Ho-Ho!!" he's loud, he's big, he's red-faced, probably has a multi-entry entertainer's visa since he operates on a seasonal basis, but no permanent residency, so can't own property or get a mortgage; voting rights, forget it-- ask any expat-- and rides a sled for godsake, pulled by reindeer no less. An elderly guy who operates by night dressed in fire engine red with high black boots? Whooaa. Outfit trimmed with white fur? Big whooaa: definitely a foreigner.

Also he has a chimney-centered modus operandi in a country with no chimneys and where the home is an extremely private place in which few speak English-- or want to-- particularly to a noisy overweight big-bearded guy in a red suit drops into the house like that in the middle of the night with a name so hard to pronounce: not very appealing to your average Japanese even if it is Christ/Xmas, whatever that really means here.

So Santa E. Claus, as his passport has it, isn't really all that popular in Japan at the personal level, though the mallkeepers love him, or at least they love the sleigh concept and the reindeer, especially Rudolph, a latecomer who was invented in the latter 1940s by Gene Autry.

Fact is you don't see all that much of Santa in public here. Sure, you see him now and then in a Coke ad or something, maybe scarfing a Big Mac or getting down with some scantily clad North Pole babes in a tv commercial, a little bit of international tokenism, but nah. The Santa tradition is new to the Land of Wa.

And alien. Nobody leaves out coffee and donuts for the guy, donuts aren't too good here anyway-- and judging by his alien girth he's definitely a donut connoisseur-- or cookies or pie and milk. Cookies, pies, by and large forget them too, alien concepts. And most Japanese are lactose intolerant.

Personally, I used to like the guy Santa used to be, back when I was a kid, before he was demonized by his own obsessively commercial behavior, which is becoming international in his old age. There was much appeal in the Santa who used to embody just the basic overweight spirit of Christ/Xmas, a time for the general resurgence of basic humanity and brotherhood and celebration of community yaggeda yaggeda, albeit necessarily Christian, but back in those postwar days you took what you could get.

Things have changed since then, but Christ/Xmas in Japan doesn't mean all the same things it means in the West. Christ/Xmas here is pretty veneery, a name to call the season, a time when the demand for bulky red-faced elder male models reaches its crescendo. It also means major shopping of course, the biggest thing it means now in the West. Here in nowadays Japan, though, Christ/Xmas has become just that: a season of foreign old-timey nostalgia, bigtiming it purely on a commercial basis, without the spiritual overtones.

There are Christ/Xmas lights on houses here and there, or what you could call Christ/Xmas lights, since they're put up at around this time and they light up, but it's not the same thing. There are no big decorative candy canes by the front door-- way too unsubtle-- no reindeers, no sleighs, no Rudolphs on the eaves, no Santas on the roofs looking for the chimneys. And as you can imagine, a candycaneless, deerless, sledless, chimneyless Shinto/Buddhist-blend Santa just doesn't ring the old sleighbells.

Anyway, foreigner that he is, Santa will be leaving at the end of the month as per the standard visa requirement, with his re-entry permit for next year, if he doesn't forget to go to immigration before leaving. I've known that to happen, and it doesn't matter who you are; those guys at immigration are way colder than the North Pole.

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