Tag Archives: friends

see no evil… only lots of beautiful shrines and temples

11 Dec

ImageLast weekend, friend CT came to visit me, and she likes visiting temples and historical sites just as much as me, and so we headed out to one of the most popular tourist destinations in eastern Japan, which just happens to be about two hours by train away from me, Nikko.  Nikko is the temple/shrine/mausoleum where Tokugawa Ieyasu, the man who unified Japan and started the Edo period of peace and prosperity in 1603, is enshrined as a Buddhist diety in the form of a Shinto kami… in other words, it’s a great example of the historical co-existence of Buddhism and Shintoism in Japan, as well as a beautiful place for sightseeing, as both the mountains and nature around Nikko are stunning.  The view off the mountains going to and from the Nikko shrine/temple site is really breathtaking, and while I didn’t get a chance to go, there’s also a famous waterfall at Nikko.  The buildings themselves host visually stunning relief sculptures in amazing detail, as well as beautiful colours and use of gold foil, and also is the home of two iconic images in Japanese culture, the three wise monkeys and the sleeping cat.

ImageEven most Americans have heard of the three wise monkeys whose poses teach us to “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil,” but a much fewer amount of people are aware of their origin.  While the moral involved was not completely new at the construction of Nikko, the use of monkeys (a play on words: in 1600s Japanese, “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” was said, “mizaru, kikazaru, iwazaru” and “saru” or “zaru” means “monkey”!) was popularized by the sculpture at Nikko.  The three wise monkeys are part of a longer relief sculpture that goes around the top of the building, and each monkey represents an idea or stage of life, but for some reason, only those three monkeys got popular!  In the photo, the monkeys are the second panel from the left; click on the photo to enlarge it.

ImageUnlike the three wise monkeys, the sleeping cat is less popular in the West, possibly because it has less moral significance, but… come on, who doesn’t like a cute sleeping cat?  The carving of the sleeping cat (nemuri neko in Japanese) is a little hard to spot, in a rather obscure ledge over a doorway, but it’s one of the most popular sights at the temple.  It was carved by legendary Edo period artist Hidari Jingoro, who loved cats and whose work influenced the depiction of animals in Japanese sculpture at the time.  No one is exactly sure if the cat has a specific symbolic meaning, but I’ve heard it hypothesized that it might have been meant to represent the Tokugawa regime; peaceful (as shown by the sleeping) but ready to strike at any time (you can’t see it in the picture, but the cats front paws are tense).  Perhaps this isn’t the real meaning, but either way, Japanese tourists and foreign tourists alike seem to love this cute cat~

After our visit to the temples and shrines, we headed back into town and got a snack at the famous Meiji no Yakata coffee shop!  Meiji no Yakata is a famous historical restaurant located very close to Nikko’s Rinnoji temple, housed in a Western-style mansion that was formerly a vacation home for an American diplomat.  It’s famous enough for its cakes and pastries, however, that it also has another location, a small coffee shop with cheesecake, scones, and other treats right by Tobu Nikko Station.  Their cheesecake was really delicious, covered in a thin layer of what seemed to be lemon meringue, and the coffee also lived up to the store’s reputation!  It was a bit pricy, but well worth it for the scenic location and delicious food.

All in all, I had a great time at Nikko, but there was still a lot that I didn’t get to see, so I predict that I’ll be back sometime in the near future!


A festive(al) occasion

7 Aug

ImageDespite spending the end of the JET-contract-year doing essentially nothing, it’s come to be that time of the year again for Kiryu’s annual Kiryu Yagibushi Matsuri! I wrote about this once before on my blog, but just as I thought, it was much more enjoyable this year, now that I’m familiar with my town, my students and the other JETs in my area. Also, this year was the 50th anniversary of the matsuri, so it was especially festive and crowded!  I saw tons of my students, got to eat tons of delicious fried foods, spent time with my fellow ALTs, and even tried a little dancing!

ImageI don’t think I explained this before, but the main focus of Kiryu’s annual matsuri (festival) is the local traditional
dance.  While the stalls lining the streets offering foods and games for kids such as fish-catching and target-shooting, the people dressed in yukata (Japanese cotton summer kimono), and the lanterns lining the streets are common practice for matsuri, the special element of Kiryu’s matsuri is the groups of people doing the Yagibushi dance together in the main square.  ImageAround town, there are large platforms decorated with lanterns on which musicians and singers stand make music, and many of these feature various forms of trained traditional dancers or performers.  However, in the main square, the musicians are there to provide musical accompaniment for the main attraction.  Volunteers dressed up for the matsuri (including, this year, my hairdresser!) stay and do the Yagibushi dance around this main platform, but the majority of the dancers are not trained performers but regular visitors to the matsuri who join in the yagibushi dance.
Last year, I was brand new to Kiryu, still in a daze of jetlag, completely unaware of my surroundings, and generally lost in the crowd and excitement of the matsuri. This year, however, I was much better prepared.  Decked out in my yukata, I was ready to take on the matsuri after a year of getting to know Kiryu and its inhabitants, and so when many of the other ALTs decided to try dancing, I decided to be adventurous went along.  After 18 years of classical ballet training, I’m pretty good at picking up dance steps on the fly, and so after a few fumbling attempts, I began to get the hang of the dance. I’m sure I did it like a ballerina and not at all like I knew the correct form, but half the people around me were drunk, so I don’t think I stood out too much!  It was really great to participate in a tradition unique to my town after a year of settling in.
ImageI did enjoy some of the things I had enjoyed last year, as well, however.  The decorations this year seemed even more extravagant and colorful this year than they did last year, and I was impressed by how much work seemed to have gone into preparing them.  Additionally, I highly enjoyed the wide variety of unhealthy foods for sale, and indulged in karaage (small bits of fried chicken), kakigoori (crushed ice with flavored syrup), french fries, and nikumaki onigiri, a delicious invention that I discovered last year which is essentially a ball of rice wrapped in bacon and covered in sauce and a topping of  choice (options included cheese, Japanese chives, sesame seeds, and kimchi).  I tried some of my friends’ foods, as well, and even got handed a free chocobanana (banana dipped in chocolate) at the end of the night by someone trying to get rid of the food they had left over!
ImageThere were also a variety of performances throughout the evening, though sadly, since I didn’t know when and where things were happening, I missed most of them.  Apparently, there’s always a big fancy parade on Sunday afternoon, so I hope to check that out next year! There were also dance performances by various groups, including a group of workers from city hall (where I go for my monthly  meetings and such; I’m technically employed by the city), classes from a local culture center, and more!  Now that I know how many performances there are to see, next year, hopefully I can try to catch more of them next year!
However, despite all the sights and foods, the matsuri ended on a bit of a sad note for me. Since ALTs change in the summer, any ALTs from the previous year who had decided not to renew their contracts were leaving after the matsuri ended. I’m happy that I got to spend time with them at the matsuri, but it’s sad to know that we only had one short year together, and now they’re leaving. I’m going to miss them, but I’m wishing them well in all their future endeavors! Two of the four leaving JETs have gotten jobs in Tokyo, so I hope that this isn’t goodbye.
And the matsuri wasn’t all about partings. Three of the new ALTs came as well, so I got a first chance to meet the new people with whom I’ll be working for the next year. I’m looking forward to getting to know them better. Additionally, I ran into various of my students, many of whom greeted me happily and excitedly. It was really great to see them and to know they were happy to see me, and some of them even complimented my yukata! I hope that next year’s matsuri will bring as many smiling faces as this one.

I’m a con(cert) woman

23 May

ImageMay has been the lucky months of many concerts for me!  S and I were lucky enough to land not one but two sets of tickets to Sexy Zone’s Japan Tour concert in Yokohama Arena, and I also hit for a ticket to Hey! Say! JUMP’s Tokyo Dome show, where Sexy Zone would also be appearing to celebrate the creation of their new fanclub!  We also were lucky enough to win tickets to a Johnny’s Livehouse Ginza in the tiny Crea theatre, seating only 600! That show will be on May 26th, so I have yet to see what it will be like, but I’ve been to the other three now, and after talking about concerts in passing for a while, I figured I’d take this opportunity to explain just what going to a Johnny’s Entertainment concert is like!

ImageThe first confusing thing about Johnny’s concerts is how one comes about these tickets.  Unlike in America or for a concert by a non-idol group in Japan, you can’t just call up a ticket office and purchase a good seat (or a decent seat, or a bad seat).  You can’t use the internet to buy a ticket, either.  Instead, you must be a member of the Johnny’s “Family” Club (fan club) designated for the group whose concert you wish to attend.  A membership costs ~¥5,000 per year, and once you’re a member, you can use Japan Post money orders to ballot for tickets.  In essence, the way tickets are awarded in a lottery; whether or not you get a ticket is random and how good your seat is is also random.  Everyone pays the same amount for tickets, usually between ¥5,000 and ¥7,000, though sometimes stage shows in theaters are more costly.  They mail the tickets to you about a week before the show in order to try to avoid resale; because some concerts have less availability or the group is very popular, resale tickets can go from anywhere from base price to ¥80,000.  On an average scale of $1 = ¥100, that’s around 800 US dollars for one ticker.  So really, that ¥5,000 membership fee isn’t so bad!  

ImageAnd then, at the venue on the day of the show, you can buy goods before the show!  Usually, there is a much wider variety of goods for Johnny’s concerts than one might expect at an American show.  ~4 x 5 inch photos of the idols, plastic folders with photos of the idols on them, uchiwa fans with the idol’s faces printed on them, a pamphlet book with interviews and photos of the idols, and posters are all common goods, along with tote bags, T-shirts, scrunchies to be worn around the wrist or in the hair, and penlights.  The penlight is something I hadn’t heard of before coming to Japan; in America, people seem to use their cell phones, other electronic devices, or glowsticks in concerts, but in Japan, basically battery-powered light sticks like glowsticks replaced actual glowsticks.  Johnny’s took this one step further and makes penlights specific to each group and concert.  Generally, it’s not expected that you buy a new penlight at each concert, but it’s odd to use a penlight from the wrong group at a different group’s concert.  

ImageAside from a penlight, the other item of must-have concert goods is an uchiwa, which I talked about in this post a while back.  Every good fan has at least one (more likely 4 or 5, or even 20) stuffed into her bag, along with her goods and everything else she’s brought along with her.  All this gets looted through at the door the venue, because for some reason, staff are required to check for cameras, even though, at this point, every phone is equipped to audio and video record, as well as take still photos.  But for some reason, the staff still glance inside every concert-goer’s bag and asks politely, “Do you have a camera?”  Once you say “no,” they let you in!  From there, you can usually spot the display that will always be set up to showcase the various flowers the performers receive from magazines, TV stations, producers, and various other related companies and people who had worked with the idols.  In Japan, flowers are a necessity in all sorts of situation (such as a new business opening), and there will almost always be flowers on display before a performance! 

ImageNext it comes time to find your seat, which can be harder than you think!  Obviously seating in every venue is different, and differences in shape (like an arena versus a dome) and size (how many floors, for example), as well as changes in the setup for the concert inside the venue can really change your concert experience.  For example, we were at the very end of the catwalk and in a very close row for our first Sexy Zone show (in the photo it’s a bit hard to tell since I was surreptitiously taking the photo with my technically illegal camera… ) This gave us a great view whenever they did anything at the end of the catwalk, but a really crappy view of the stage (or rather, we could easily see the stage, but the idols on it looked like tiny specks!) However, for our second show, we were right next to the stage– like the people on the far right of this photo– and a little bit farther away.  That made it a little harder to see everything, but we could watch the stage quite easily!  Both of our seats were really not bad, but definitely gave two very different experiences, even in a concert with a typical setup of a round catwalk around the arena, a main stage at one end, a small stage at the other end, and a center stage in the middle.  

ImageEverything was completely different for the Hey! Say! JUMP concert, however.  It was in Tokyo Dome, which, being for baseball, is shaped in a circle, rather than ovular, like arenas.  In the past, I’ve felt that this leads to a better view for everyone, but this time, the setup of the dome was very odd.  The stage was small, and there were seats almost all the way around behind it (I happened to be in one of these unfortunate behind seats.  There was an inner and outer catwalk, and then a center stage, as well as other stages attached to the catwalks.  I’ve never seen a setup like it, and apparently the band members designed it themselves.  I feel like perhaps it was good in theory but less good in execution: I was only on the second level, and yet when the members were on the center stage it was hugely difficult to see them, and because the screens were so far away, it was hard to rely on them.  Overall, not the best seats I’ve had, but in terms of my most recent concerts, it’s hard to compare Tokyo Dome to Yokohama Arena, anyway, considering that Yokohama Arena seats around 15,000 people and Tokyo Dome seats around 45,000!  

So… now you’re all prepared to attend a Johnny’s concert on your own!  I’ll see you there~

Let’s go west~

13 Apr

ImageOver my spring break, along with S and CT, I visited the Kansai region, namely to do some sightseeing in two of most popular tourist destinations in Japan: Osaka and Kyoto.  Being an art history nerd, I was very excited to visit the various temples that can be found around the region, but we also planned to check out Osaka’s famous Kaiyuukan aquarium, a woodblock print museum, and,of course, the shopping scene in Nanba!  I was also personally looking forward to one of my favourite treats, matcha and vanilla swirl soft-serve!  While it’s possible to get it in the Kanto region where I live, it’s way more common in Kansai, and since I love anything matcha or Japanese green tea flavored, I was really looking forward to it!

ImageAfter spending our first night in Osaka shopping, looking around the area, and taking the chance to sing karaoke together, we headed out the next day to Kyoto to see some historical sites.  Our first stop was Kinkakuji, a very famous and popular destination for both Japanese and foreign tourists.  Kinkakuji was originally a villa owned by Muromachi period shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and, after his death, it was converted into a Zen temple, as per his wishes.  Architecturally, the building is interesting and complex because its three floors are each designed in a different style: the first floor is in the old Kyoto court style used to create buildings for the aristocracy in the Heian period, the second floor is built in the style of samurai buildings, and the third floor is built in traditional Chinese Chan (or Zen) Buddhist style.  The garden around the building also contains plenty of visual interest; it contains various illusions to Japanese literature (a common aesthetic choice in Japanese garden design) and as a whole is based on descriptions of the Western Heaven on Zen Buddhism.  Additionally, Kinkakuji is the famous titular temple described in Yukio Mishima’s The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, which is based on real events that took place when a monk burned down the temple in 1950.  All in all, Kinkakuji is full of visual and historical interest, and though I had been once before, I was happy to go again!

ImageAfter Kinkakuji, our next stop was Maruyama Park, where we planned to do hanami.  While Japanese culture is highly fond of all four seasons and the plants and nature that go along with them, the most celebrate flower of all is the cherry blossom or sakura, which only blooms in Japan for about two weeks.  Because the briefness of the beautiful sakura blossoms echoes the impermanence of life as taught by Buddhism, it’s been the subject of many poems and works of art throughout Japanese history, and even today, hanami is a must-do for many people during the sakura season.  It’s hard to define hanami in just one word, but it’s comprised of the characters for “look” and “flower,” so I guess “flower-watching” is one way to put it.  Typically, doing hanami means going to a park or somewhere with sakura trees in bloom and having a picnic or meal, drinking alcohol, and talking with friends, all the while admiring and enjoying the scenery of cherry blossoms.  Since Kyoto is a scenic and picturesque place, it seemed like a great choice for hanami, and luckily for us, the weather was perfect, and our timing was just right to catch the cherry blossoms in full bloom!

ImageAfter our hanami, we headed to our next temple destination: Kiyomizudera!  Kiyomizudera is a temple comissioned by Tokugawa Iemitsu, one of the important political figures of the Edo period in Japanse history (the period famous for isolationism, samurai, and kabuki).  It is set into a steep hill in Kyoto, and thus is a very popular tourist destination for its great views… however, this also makes it a pain to get to because you have to walk so far uphill!  But it’s well worth it, and seeing it surrounded by cherry blossoms was quite the sight, even if the place was packed with tourist.  Actually, some of the Japanese tourists provided an interesting addition to the temple itself; while I’ve never seen this in Tokyo or Gunma or anywhere else in Japan, there were many Japanese (and some Chinese, actually) tourists dressed in traditional Japanese kimono, and I enjoyed admiring them as well as the scenery.

ImageWalking around Kiyomizudera is quite the undertaking because the path leads around the side of the mountain and back again, but it really does give a beautiful view of the temple and its surroundings, as well as of the city of Kyoto on the horizon.  Especially with all of the sakura in full bloom, I was happy to get a chance to see the sights.  There are a lot of sub-buildings (and even an entire separate temple sort of off to the side) around the grounds, as well, so I was happy for the opportunity to get to check them all out!

ImageAfter Kiyomizudera, we headed back to Osaka for the night, and then, the next morning, we headed out to the Kaiyukan Aquarium!  While it’s nothing that special, it’s a large aquarium with lots of different species and even some aquatic-related mammals, like the recently-popular capybara! After the aquarium, we headed to Shitennouji temple, for which I was quite excited!  One reason, embarrassingly, is that one of the schools featured in the popular manga and anime series Prince of Tennis is based off of Shitennouji, or, to be exact, the attached middle school there.  But mostly, I was excited to see their five-story pagoda!  Many Buddhist temples in Japan have five-story pagodas, but the special feature of Shitennouji’s is that tourists are allowed to ascend to the top!  Most temples only allow tourists in on the entry level or not at all, and so I was excited to go inside.  While what was inside was actually not that interesting (the interior had obviously been redone since it was build, with linoleum floors and all), the view from the top, as well as the basic architectural elements were really beautiful!

ImageAfter Shitennouji, we headed back to the Namba area to check out a woodblock print museum, and then grabbed dinner before catching our train back to Mie.  The past night, we had been too tired for an extravagant dinner, but on our last day, we decided to get a regional specialty,
okonomiyaki!  I had okonomiyaki once in Gunma with my coworkers, but since its origin is in the Kansai region, we had to try some here, too!  It’s often described as “Japanese pizza”… but I don’t really understand why.  It’s usually a cake-type item made of a batter of flour, some sort of potato, cabbage, and egg, as well as whatever meats and vegetables are desired.  In the past, I haven’t liked it very much (it often contains ginger, which I really dislike), but I had to admit, these Kansai okonomiyaki were very delicious!

And with that, we headed back to Mie, full, tired, and happy.  It was a great spring break, and I hope I can do more traveling with CT in the future!

all good things come to an end

26 Mar

Last Friday was the 84th and final graduation ceremony at one of my elementary schools, Showa Elementary.  Because the population of Japan is decreasing and the population of non-metropolitan cities is decreasing even more steeply, the number of students in the school was dropping (Japanese classes average between 30-40 students in a class, and my first grade class had 12 students) and the decision was made to merge it with another public elementary school in the district.  It’s a little sad for the students, who naturally are fond of their elementary school, but I think it’s more sad for the teachers, who will be scattered to different schools next year.  The teachers at this particular elementary school were really great, kind, and enthusiastic about teaching; they were always invested in creating fun English lessons for the kids (rather than sitting back and just letting me do all the work) and were really helpful and welcoming to me when I was first getting situated in Japan.  This is the school where, when I had culture shock and was afraid everyone might hate me, everyone came together and told me that they loved me.  I’ve gone out to food and drinks with the teachers from this school multiple times, and when I was sick, one of my coworkers there brought me medicine and supplies.  When I gave my leaving speech on my last day, I made the principal cry, and she said that I had brightened everyone’s lives and made the school a better place.  So, needless to say, I was really, really sad to see it closing.

I may have cried through the whole ceremony, but even so, it was interesting to experience a Japanese public school graduation.  I went to public school for elementary school, and while we had an assembly where the leaving class (in my case, 4th grade) were given awards like perfect attendance and straight As, it was definitely not called a graduation, and we weren’t given diplomas or anything of the like.  But in Japan, every level of school from pre-school/kindergarten (in Japan the two are basically the same thing; 幼稚園, yochien, is pre-school day school which has a class for 3, 4, and 5 year olds) to elementary, junior high, high school, college, and on have graduation ceremonies with formal proceedings, suits, ties, lots of singing, and speeches from everyone and their mother (literally– there was a speech from a parent representative thanking the teachers for their hard work at both my elementary and junior high graduation ceremonies).

ImageOne interesting thing about the ceremony was that while in junior high, a graduating student and an underclassman had each given a speech, one reflecting on her junior high school experience and the other thanking the graduating students for their leadership and wishing them well in high school, in elementary school, the interaction between younger students and graduating students was much more performative.  The graduating students and the underclassmen faced on another in groups, and first, the underclassmen wished the graduating students well in a sort of composition where each student said a phrase or a sentence, coming together to create a speech of sorts.  Then, the underclassmen sang a song together.  Afterwards, the graduating students responded in a similar way, as well as reflecting on their elementary school experience, and each student got to speak at least once.  Then, the graduating students also sang.  It was very touching, and needless to say, I cried.

One more interesting point of graduation in my town (if not more places) is that it seems to always be accompanied by cherry blossom tea.  However, from now on, I think I’ll stick to looking at cherry blossoms, rather than drinking them.

Turning over a new leaf (or something)

18 Jan

New Year, or お正月 (oshogatsu) in Japanese, is basically the biggest holiday in the Japanese year.  New Year’s is a time when people spend time with their families, eat traditional New Year’s foods like ozoni and play traditional New Year’s games like karuta, and go to temples for the special New Year’s visit, or hatsumode. New Year’s is the only time that I simply get time off from school without having to take paid leave or else sit in the school building despite not teaching any classes.  All of my coworkers spent the time busily cleaning their houses, writing and sending the all-important nengajo or New Year’s cards, and preparing for relatives to visit.  I spent the time relaxing and enjoying the time off from work.

ImageThat’s not completely true actually; I spent the time cleaning and preparing for my little sister to visit, so in essence, I did some of the same things.  But unfortunately, when it comes to
hatsumode, and nengajo, I don’t know where to start, so we spent New Year’s the American way, eating, drinking, and being merry on New Year’s eve, and sleeping it off the next day.  We watched the Japanese New Year’s broadcast, Kohaku, a music show where popular artists compete on the red or white (New Year’s colours) teams and at the end of the show, audience vote determines the winner, as well as a countdown right at midnight produced by Johnny’s, and thus was mostly idols singing and prancing around with a countdown to midnight.  All in all, it might not have been very Japanese, but it was fun.

ImageI was very excited that my little sister was coming to visit me in Japan for New Year’s; it was her first time to Japan, and we hadn’t seen one another in a long time.  Because I was so excited, I planned a big New Year’s dinner– S made latkes, and I tried to recreate some delicious fried sausage dumplings I had had at an izakaya once, as well as making pork, mushroom, and  onion gyoza.  My sister helped, and this made us feel very in touch with our Chinese heritage!

ImageThe meal was delicious, and afterwards, we had more cake and sparkling wine!  We bought two bottles, so that we could drink one while watching Kohaku and use another to toast at midnight.  It was still fairly cheap stuff, but it wouldn’t be New Year’s eve without sparkling wine!  For the roll cakes, we got one white cake with strawberries that I though would be like strawberry shortcake but turned out to be a bit too sweet for me, and a matcha cake.  I really love matcha, and I was excited to introduce my sister to the flavor!  I was afraid she might not like it, because she can sometimes be a bit picky, but luckily, she did, and so a good time was had all around… even if my sister was so jet lagged that she ended up taking a nap around 9 pm so that she could stay up until midnight!

ImageNext year, I would like to find someone who will take me to hatsumode, and perhaps let me wear a kimono or something of the like.  But I was really glad that my sister came to visit me this year, and I had a really good time with her, too.  Part of being a foreigner is mixing a little bit of your own traditions with the traditions of where you’re staying, right?  Still, hopefully next year I’ll be able to have a little more Japanese in my oshogatsu.

(Belated) Christmas post!

18 Jan

I’m so sorry for how long it’s been since my last post.  Perhaps it’s because of the new environment or perhaps being around small kids all day doesn’t agree with me, but for whatever reason, I’ve been sick a lot this winter.  I came down with a bad virus that kept me in bed with a 39.4º C fever and intense vertigo, so I’ve been basically trapped in bed laying completely horizontal for a while now.  But now I’m finally back at work, attempting to catch up on things like my blog.  I apologize for the long break!

While it was almost a month ago, I’ve been meaning to write here about my Christmas in Japan! In Japan, Christmas essentially has two varieties: a celebration with kids and parents where the family eats fried chicken from KFC together and the kids get presents from their parents and from “Santa Claus,” and a romantic date night for couples to go to fancy restaurants and see illuminations together.  Since Japan is one of the few countries where Christianity never caught on despite the best efforts of European missionaries, and so Christmas has sort of come in parts through foreigners living in Japan, and today’s Christmas in Japan in the result.

ImageWhile I consider myself areligious, my mother’s family has always celebrated Christmas with the
tradition, so I enjoy doing Christmas festivities on December 24th, and while I’m not a someone who’s obsessively in love with Christmas, I enjoy the opportunity to make fancy food, dress up, and consider the day a “special occasion.”  So, since December 24th was a national holiday this year (December 23rd is the emperor’s birthday, but since that was a Sunday this year, the holiday was moved to Monday), S and I decided to have our own small Christmas celebration.

ImageWhile we weren’t planning on going to see illuminations and hadn’t bought gifts for one another, we decided one thing we needed to do to make it a Japanese Christmas was eat chicken!  Unfortunately, S forgot to reserve KFC for that day (yes, people make reservations to have KFC ready to be picked up on Christmas), so we were forced to eat chicken from a different place.  It was still delicious, however, and to round out the meal, I made a pasta salad and hors d’oeuvre crackers with garlic cream cheese and tomato and cucumber.

ImageWe also got Christmas cake!  Another food Japanese people associate with Christmas is cake, and since the Japanese take pastries and baked goods very seriously, there are some very beautifully decorated cakes available for Christmas.  But… seeing as our Christmas was already sort of thrown together, we settled with roll cake and slices of cake from the convenience store.  Still, they were quite delicious, and we finished off with some sparkling wine, which, cheap as it was, was a nice way to end a nice evening.

Perhaps next year, we’ll get our act together and actually get KFC and order a real cake from a bakery.  Maybe I’ll even have a party rather than just a quiet evening with my bff.  But this year was fun, too, so maybe, next year, we’ll do it the same, after all.