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Tuesday, December 25

Christmas Lost and Found

Today is Christmas. Where did the time go?? Where did the day go?? Why does Christmas come faster with each passing year?

My past weeks were spent trying to find some Christmas spirit. I tried really hard. It’s not that Japan doesn’t show some Christmas spirit, it’s just that what is here… is just all… wrong. It’s way more commercialized than it is back home, which is surprising when I think about how commercialized it is back home and somebody topped that here. My second thing with Christmas here is that it is all done rather spottily. A decoration here or there. A “merry Christmas” called out every so often. Businesses are open as usual and the people follow suit. Everything is just… off. Please know that I am not complaining. And I’m not blaming anyone either. The Japanese are culture that embraces Buddhism and Shintoism. Why should they celebrate a Christian holiday the way we do? The problem lies only within me.

Last year, we flew home. This year, we didn’t. It is my first year ever away from one side of the family or the other for the holidays. There are a lot of reasons for this. All of them good, logicial reasons. But it doesn’t change my past weeks of sadness when I think about not being with family and close friends on a day meant for such. There really is no place like home for the holidays.

So this is why I have been struggling with finding my Christmas spirit. KH keeps reminding me of my own motto to always stay positive, which is why I spent many days in the past week going through the motions that usually get a person ‘in the mood.’ I baked over sixteen dozen cookies that I shared with work colleagues and Japanese friends alike. I blared Christmas music and sang along at the top of my lungs, trying to have the wind in my lungs fill the sad space in my heart (it also helps to remind my neighbors why they have never changed their first impression of me as some sort of lunatic). I spent days shopping, wrapping and then shipping my packages tied pp with string. Cards were sent and received. The house has been decorated. All the while, I was still lacking warmth from those actions that usually provide me with that special traditional sense of the Christmas spirit.

A package arrived from home last week that got me as close as it could to filling my heart. Mom always knows just the right words to say and the right thing to send to make every just… better.

Karen – This little guy is brining you lots of hugs from me. When Christmas gets to you because you won’t be home, just hug him and know that I gave him a lot of hugs for you. I love you, Mom

The note came with Petey the Peng-bird; and he is full of stuffed Christmas cheer that will warm your heart. (Did you know about my love affair with the peng-bird?… I couldn’t say penguin as a child… either because I was too dumb or more likely just too stubborn.) The duck has been given a needed break and instead I drag Petey around the house like some child with a comforting, old blanket.

So Christmas comes today, backed with all the dread that I had associated with it for months. For weeks, I teared up just thinking about it. But you know what? There were no tears today. Christmas just wasn’t so bad like I expected a holiday away from home would be. Sure it didn’t look like home, smell like home, feel like home or have the love of a large family around me. While those things weren’t present in reality, they were all present in my heart. For each second of this day.

When I woke up today, I wasn’t expecting there would be too much Christmas-y ‘special’ to come from the day. I simply couldn’t have been more wrong. For every moment of today, that something special has been here. It was in the phone calls to home. It was in first attempt to make the dinner menu my in-laws enjoy for Christmas. It was in the mass of lovingly chosen gifts we ripped through before breakfast. Most of all, it was in the day of quiet hominess that my heart felt… halfway around the world from everything I had believed was what made it Christmas. For all of my weeks of searching, Christmas was here all along… always inside of me… thanks to the love I’ve known through so many wonderful years.

If you are far from home this Christmas and feeling down, or even just feeling those general holiday blues hiding the spirit from you today… may you too find that Christmas is always with you, like an old blanket, a new peng-bird or just the necessary smidge of insight into your own heart. May you know the love that comes from those things and always remember the cherished moments in life that put the ‘special’ into your holidays. May you know a wonderful Christmas… wherever you are.

Monday, December 17

Ikebana International’s Fair 2007 for Charity

The thing I like so much about Ikebana International is the ‘international’ part of it. Last Monday, I caught a train with friends towards Tokyo for the I.I. Fair 2007 for Charity presented by the Tokyo Founding Chapter. A ridiculous amount of tickets had been sold this year… over 3,000. Do you realize this means that over 3,000 people were coming to this thing... on a Monday afternoon?? The line to get in snaked around several empty ballrooms on the floor it was being held in the Tokyo Prince Hotel. When the doors opened for the event, tables in the huge ballroom bazaar, as well as the Ikebana exhibition tables, were instantly flooded with people. We even tried to be smart and start at the back of the room working forward, but many had the same idea too.

Basically there were a hundred of so tables set up with just about any kind of food, clothing and decoration one could imagine. In the world. You see, while I can’t recall how many Embassies participated, every corner of the earth was represented in some fashion. Typically at the end of the table, you could find a sign telling you which country the table was presented by. A few, I actually had to ask where that country was. This is the whole ‘international’ part that I enjoy so much. I had coffee from Saudi Arabia thanks to the wife of the Ambassador from Algeria (whom I met last year when I tried the burka fashion popular in northern Africa) who was roaming the room with her Saudi friend. First you eat a sweet dried prune and then drink this coffee that has a wonderful aroma, thanks to the smell from the spices involved. The taste is even better. Then I had a snack of some sort from India, a lunch set from Thailand, topped off with Japanese tea ceremony and sweets. The Denmark embassy provided entertainment in the form of a gorgeous opera singer, which prompted the arrival of Japanese Princess Takamado, whose bodyguards politely cleared a path as she made it through the throngs of people to her front and center seat. This is the second time that she has passed directly in front of me… at arms length… and the second time I have forgotten to take a picture. This time, though, I have a good reason. My hands were filled with purchases (including one gorgeous beaded necklace from the Congo) and the one coveted generic cola I found in the joint, courtesy of some African nation I now forget the name of. No way was I putting that caffeine aside. I would have tossed the purchases down, but not the cola. Not for anything.

Seriously, where else can you become so immersed in such a multitude of cultures than you can with Ikebana International? Okay, sure there are plenty of organizations that are all about improving diplomatic relations, but known that I know of are so accessible to common folk like myself. The most wonderful part is how friendly everyone is. We didn’t go steps without stopping to chat with someone, known or unknown until then. At the tea ceremony, a Japanese woman made a special effort to come sit next to me, only to share her sweets with me because, as she said, she thought I was pretty. A wonderful compliment even if her familiarity with American women has got to be slim to consider myself in such a category.

As we were leaving for the fifth or sixth time (we kept running into more people that wanted to talk and would lead us each time further away from the door), I did take note that with all of the world’s nations represented, there was one that was not… the United States! Perhaps this harkens back to what I’ve said before… we’re just a bit too much of everything that we wouldn’t know what to put on our table beyond… say… everything? And chocolate chip cookies, of course.

Sunday, December 9

Early Christmas Outings in Japan

Here I sit, post surgery, post recovery and just about as antsy as one would expect after all that sitting. Since Friday, it has been go-go-go around here. The first thing I wanted to do was to get out and enjoy “Christmas” in Japan. Statistically, it is something like 1% of the Japanese are Christian, which means that Christmas celebrations aren’t quite what they are back in the U.S.

First, it isn’t a national holiday. People do the work as usual thing. Christmas being on a Tuesday this year… well, it just seems strange to be celebrating with the eating, drinking and spreading the merry when everyone else is so hard at work. While it may not be a religious celebration here… it is a celebration nonetheless as it has been turned into a commercial spectacle. Christmas lights have been hanging on houses and in stores since Halloween. The Japanese are very appreciative of their seasons, so while they don’t step on falls toes, they do tend to yank that crap down and replace it with a gore of lights even before the commercial institution that exists back home has done. Driving around in the evenings here will regale you with lights of every color (purple and pink seem to be favorites) and blinking speed strung in some of the most *ahem* creative fashions one can imagine. I kid, but it is quite festive despite it being nothing like back home. Or should I say… in all honesty, it has all pretty much grown on me.

On Saturday, KH had an extra day of work, so I chose to spend my time getting out to enjoy the beauty of Japanese Christmas and do some shopping in Kamakura. Lo and behold, did this town surprise me! Perhaps it was because it was daytime and the more garish colors do not stand out, but the Christmas that was strewn about was actually quite tasteful and pretty! The temperature was perfect for outdoor shopping… in the cool low 50s, only dropping to the upper 30s after the sun set around 4:30. The streets and shops were filled with weekend patrons. The shop shelves were filled with the ever popular Santa image and even more so with the Japanese new year decoration, as that holiday is much more important to the culture. By the way, this coming year is the year of the mouse… which I only discovered after asking a shop owner what many stuffed, porcelain, wooden, straw, the list goes on, and on, and on, crazy-looking mice were for.

The cold weather daiyaki (kind of a grilled pancake with anko (red bean paste) inside) vendors were out in force. And a new ice cream vendor, Marble, has opened next to the train station. I made this my last stop of the day to get a chocolate cream with orange sauce, which turned out to be something like orange peel in a jellied state, topped with a signature wafer.

Arms filled with bags, mind filled with decorating ideas, I headed back home to put the Christmas touches on our home.

Happy Japanese holiday season, all! And don’t forget that Emperor Akihito’s Birthday is coming up on December 23rd which is indeed a national holiday!