December 24, 2008

Kentucky Fried Christmas Eve

Bet you didn’t know that Kentucky Fried Chicken is a very popular choice for Christmas Eve dinner in Japan.

"Why not give it a try?" I thought, in my continuing quest to explore the interesting cultural twists of my host country. I discovered that the information found on other blogs is true: unless you reserve your Christmas KFC far in advance, you can’t buy it for dinner on December 24 or on Christmas Day. The outlets are just too busy!When I checked this out a local KFC outlet about a week ago, the reservation sheet was completely filled in for a week prior to, and after, Christmas Eve. Lady E. likes chicken, and I am still very curious about the ways Japanese people modify foreign products or traditions to meet local needs, but this rush just to eat yucky tucky is pushing the envelope for me. So we’ll settle for a home cooked meal on Christmas Eve instead.

Background: From what I’ve learned, KFC began operations in Japan in 1970. A life size replica of Colonel Sanders is placed in front of almost all KFC outlets in Japan (see below). But why is KFC so popular on Christmas Eve?

Apparently, the lack of turkey in Japan, and the general lack of ovens big enough to cook the birds in peoples' homes even if they could be purchased, forced a switch to chicken as an alternative. Savvy marketers caught on to these market factors, and since the 1970s Christmas chicken has been intensively marketed as an American-style yuletide dinner.

Just as the same Christmas Eve has become a highly significant date night for young Japanese people on a par with Valentine’s Day (as opposed to spending it with family, which is what new year’s eve is for) the cultural significance of food and fun on Christmas Eve and Christmas itself is markedly different than in North America.

Maybe I’ll try easing sushi and ramen on Christmas Eve when we eventually live somewhere else besides Japan. Nonetheless, a very Merry Christmas from Lady E. and her crew, to you.

December 20, 2008

Rising Excitement

The holidays are approaching and the Rising Daughter is old enough now to recognize that there is something going on; i.e. that old bearded Caucasian fellow in the red suit is everywhere. For Christmas 2008 Naomi and I have been more proactive than in years past when there was just the two of us. Our shopping and wrapping are already done, yet we are still heading to the local malls on weekends with our progeny to sample the Christmas-inspired enthusiasm in the air. I hesitate to use the word ‘spirit’ here…not out of ill will, but simply because the holiday season can get whacky in Japan. Not having the Christian religious underpinnings of the West, Christmas is mostly about having fun, romance (for singles and not-so-singles) and about giving gifts. And if you accept this secular version of Christmas for what it is – and it took me a few years to do that – then you can enjoy a marvelous Nippon-style ‘Kurisumasu’ and add in your own spiritual element as you see fit.

Put simply, in this very Confucian of nations there is absolutely no effort made to coat the commercial nature of Christmas in a veneer of spirituality. The marketing onslaught begins in early November and reaches a crescendo right now. And Japanese people are superb gift givers. It is one of the currencies of this culture. And Christmas is one of the great foreign imported traditions that keep the gifts a-flowin’. Which brings us back to Lady E. and Christmas shopping…

Whenever it has been too chilly to go to the playground (no snow here, back bacon eaters!) we head indoors. Lately Elena has been running amok in the stores, babbling contentedly to herself at times and absorbing the sights and sounds around her. Her wonder and excitement owing to the colors and music of Christmastime is truly infectious. I can almost see the varied images and information physically entering her brain and being processed. It’s more than a little incredible to experience all this with her. Discussing this blog with my uncle Pat last July, he gently reminded me that a few billion people have gone though the complete parenting experience before me. My rational side is fully aware of this, and yet each time the Rising Daughter reaches another stage in her young life I feel as though it is the most amazing, unique thing on the planet and therefore EVERYONE should know. Thus, my desire to impart to you the excitement and wonder of watching her being able to really participate in the Christmas joyride this year.

Besides, I suppose that Lady E.’s healthy and happy development as a little person is the gift that I am most grateful for this Christmas season. And I hope a similar cheerful state finds each and every one you faithful readers of this blog—all six of you. Heh heh.
Here’s a video of Lady E. from last weekend:

Let’s Illuminate!
Hiroshima City also brightens up the holidays by sponsoring a festival of outdoor displays which illuminate the Peace Boulevard, one of the main streets in downtown Hiroshima. It’s a popular spot for families to drive or walk around in the evenings prior to the new year holidays. From late November through early January, the grassy areas along the boulevard’s sides are opened up to companies and organizations to show their temporary holiday-inspired tributes, the outlines of which are decorated with strings of colored lights. This year’s “Hiroshima Dreamination” has a series of very imaginative and colorful exhibits—a huge altar, a merry-go-round, animals, a sleigh, arcing shooting stars, among others, some of which also which use the stationary trees and bushes. The entire illumination festival probably involves millions of lights adorning the displays and it certainly catches one’s attention.
We went to have a look last weekend. You can see (courtesy of chisa1084 on Flickr) the replica of the Hiroshima A-Bomb Dome.

Two shots of us follow. Unfortunately, a cold drizzle forced us to leave the Christmas lights celebration before we could see all the exhibits, but this did not, err…dampen our enthusiasm for the holidays at all.