Scooter vs Japan

Christmas Post | December 25, 2015

Christmas Fireplace

I started writing an post on racism and the double standard for how we treat foreigners in Canada, but I thought that was depressing as fuck for Christmas day.

So let’s talk about mochi.

A lot of ALTs and other expats complain about having to work Christmas day, since it isn’t a holiday in Japan. What it is though (at least this year) is the last day of school before winter break and the New Year, the far more important holiday for Japanese people. So when I walked into work today, I was invited to visit the elementary school to make mochi.

Mochi is a kind of Japanese dessert that is made from pounding freshly cooked rice into a kind of dough. You then dress it with various seasonings and eat it. Mochi is often made towards the New Year (I think specifically on New Year’s Eve or Day). But since this was the last day of school, we did it there.

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That sort of gets the idea across.

The kids had a “half day” (if you can even call it that) of doing worksheets and other light classwork before heading to the big room we were making mochi in. Seniors from the community brought in stoves and pots and bags of rice and started getting things ready, making the first few batches of mochi before the kids would arrive around 10ish.

Holy shit, are these old people ripped. One guy, probably 10 years my dad’s senior, probably pounded half of the rice in a carved out tree stump using a giant wooden mallet. This guy could probably kick my ass, all of the teachers asses, and then go sumo wrestling. Meanwhile, someone else was splashing water into the stump so the rice/mochi didn’t stick and would reach in between blows to flip or fold the mochi.

Japan’s crazy.

What the Heck is Japanese Christmas?

I did do something for Christmas that was kind of Japanese. KFC is pretty big here, and people with reserve a bucket of chicken for Christmas to eat along side their special Christmas cake. And no, I don’t mean a fruit cake. Like, think a strawberry shortcake.

Again, Japan’s crazy.

I asked around, with C’s help, about where would be a good place to order such a cake, and I was pointed to a local bakery. I was told they use all local ingredients, so that’s about as small town of a cake as I’d be able to find. I then swung past Seicomart, a chain of convenience stores, and bought two little containers of fried chicken and the most expensive 500 yen bottle of wine they had.

There are many things wrong with that last statement, including 500 yen wine not being very good.

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My actual dinner.

After I got home, I waited a bit to eat, then warmed up my chicken, poured some cheap convenience store wine, and watched some YouTube. I then ate a quarter of the cake before playing a video game.

Christmas!

Is Japanese Christmas Depressing?

Not really. While a lot of people have trouble being away for the holidays, I don’t invest that much into them. Christmas for me is having supper with my family. But since they aren’t here, there really isn’t anything in the holiday for me to worry about.

The other part of the question is working on Christmas. Again, meaningless. I’m going to go home and Skype with my brother and his family, and later try to call my parents. But since it isn’t Christmas yet in Canada, the day has no meaning here. Sure, I could have taken the day off, but what would I have done? It’s not like I go to church, and there’s no one to celebrate with.

Do I hate that Christmas is Japan is this twisted abomination that borders on sacrilege? Nope. Actually, I think it’s pretty funny. Japan isn’t a Christian or a western country, so why should it celebrate Christmas? Today is just another day in the year, regardless of it’s meaning in my country. And even if it had a lot of meaning for me, it’s not like I could do much about it.

So instead, I ate chicken and cake, and watched unassumingly ripped old men pound the shit out of pot after pot of rice to make treats for the kids. How’s that for Christmas?

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About author

Scooter is an ESL teacher and Japanese anthropologist. He hopes to document his thoughts of living in Japan, continued cultural studies, and to provide advice for others looking to hop the pond.

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