Christmas is a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus and offering hope for God’s salvation. In Japan, however, people are not at all interested in the spiritual content of Christmas. At all. It is enough for everyone that Christmas is a joy. Beauty. It’s all about beauty! And indeed they can make Christmas beautiful in Japan. With Christmas trees, decorations, gifts and Santa Claus… Only the family reunion at the home table is missing. I was sad. I cried every Christmas.
Christmas without Advent
There are more than 126 million people in Japan and only one to three millions are believing Christians. It is difficult to say who is a believing Christian and who is not. Many include in their Christian faith also local religions and do not think they should not. It’s safer – no one blames them for their foreign faith then. In Japan, people have to be first of all Japanese. And as such, they profess their ancestors and the traditions of religious anchoring in national Shintoism and long-accepted Buddhism. No one is surprised that the same one person has a Shinto ceremony when born, a Christian ceremony when entering into marriage, and a Buddhist ceremony when he or she is dead. All those ceremonies are beautiful. Beautiful! Many people, for own safety, say to themselves: What if? and to be sure, they pay homage to everything that might affect their happiness. The Japanese are pantheists. Only I was the lonely stranger and an atheist. Moreover a puritan thinker. I didn’t like Japanese sycretism. Not Japanese Christmas either. Christmas was imported and was held without Advent. Who would have expected and welcome Jesus when the theme of the days was to deal with what went wrong in the year passing away trying to forget those bad happenings. Companies organized bounenkai drinking parties and Christmas songs were all around to entertain. Instead of Advent, people had decorations.
From Christmas to Christianity
Maybe it was the adventless Christmas in Japan that gave me a strong desire for God. I was sad. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t convince my Japanese husband, the father of our children, that we should be together on Christmas Eve. I wanted him to find the courage to tell his employer that he wanted and needed to be home with his family on the evening of December 24th. I prepared everything. I baked cookies. I hided the Christmas tree secretly at the back of our house for a month. Real tree! It wasn’t easy to get such in Tokyo. There was no carp available, so I made fry swordfish. I dealt with everything, but I could not succeed with one thing – to have my beloved husband at the table with us. Christmas would have to come on Sunday. I don’t remember it ever happening. But what I remember painfully is how I left home and rushed to my friend’s house late night almost every Christmas. Sad and angry. All what my parents lovingly did for me I did for my children as well. I performed all the Czech customs. And then, when I put children to sleep, I felt so down. Lonely. Unhappy. My husband didn’t know about it. He was fulfilling his duties to the Japanese society. Not to his family. My friend Stefanie Kadowaki was ten years older and had little expectations of her husband. He was in his company with his colleagues too. Our children slept and the two of us took comfort in slandering all the Japanese men. And with them we slandered the strange customs that the Japanese brought from America. We told each other that if our husbands came home with a box of Kentucky Fry Chicken like everyone else in whole Japan did, we’d throw the fried chicken thighs at their head. And that we wouldn’t even want a cake with butter cream and strawberries, whose fluffy carcasses were probably baked a month in advance. On that one day, December 24, shops in Tokyo alone sold millions of these cakes. The same strawberry cakes. Every salaryman on the way from the train station bought Kentucky packet and a cake and they thought how beautifully they celebrated Christmas. And what a service they do to their families. Even my husband bought it. It was probably contagious. The Japanese are nationally connected on Christmas Eve by Kentucky Fry, just as we in Czech are connected by Christmas carps from South Bohemia. And potato salad. Our customs seamed significantly better to me! I was mad. I was sad. I told myself that if my husband and I were both Christians, our young family would surely be happy. And I prayed for it. Though I was an atheist.
Why does pre-Christmas cleaning take place in Japan after Christmas?
I remember how we cleaned whole home in the Czech Republic a week before Christmas. We polished all silver items. Sidol was the detergent. In Japan, that crazy cleaning week was moved to the week right after Christmas. The precious Christmas holiday days – December 25, and 26, were completely forgotten. There was no time for Christmas any more. It was necessary to prepare the New Year. Oshougatsu. Clear the roads for Oshougatsu! All must be pure. In the spirit of Shinto and with all the needed symbols, such as a straight pine branch. Completely straight. No defect and warp could be on it. Straight must have been the branch exactly as the coming year was expected. And while Christmas was a celebration somehow for outside the house – for department stores and so – Oshougatsu was a holiday of households. People finally realized that in the end, their loved ones are the most important. Even if only for a few days of the year. People with their families and friends went to greet the deities of the shrines and asked for favors and blessings. They expressed their thankfulness. The message of love finally reaches the hearts of the Japanese. Jesus remained invisible and no one talked about him, but I, with my soul deepened with sadness, perceived Him all the more. I saw Him among the people in their sincere hospitality. Finally! And it was this hospitality, often elevated into art, that I fell in love with in Japan. Thanks to Japanese hospitality, I was able to calm down and through those moments I felt accepted. Welcomed among the Japanese. I learned how to cook New Year’s goodies and how to serve them so that everything is beautiful and everything speaks and communicates. Through symbols. The yellow datemaki fish roll represented Sun and noodles were taken as threads that connect the old with the new. The passing with the coming. It was exciting. I incorporated the Christmas hope and the desire for God into creative hospitality and was happy that also my husband finally shared his time with us. I entered to every new year with the hope that God would help me and my husband to be good parents to our children. This mattered to me most. For this I prayed. Though I was an atheist.
Christmas as it should be – with Advent and hospitality
The road to today was not at all as straight as the promising Japanese New Year’s pine branches. Thanks to the Christmas desire for God wrapped in the Japanese hospitality to serve in beauty and for beauty was it given to me that I found my faith in Jesus. Since then He leads me and he does it better than Czech or Japanese customs. He leads me across cultures. He leads me across social ranks. His message is simple – it is love. Love for everyone. Because God will manifest only through man. I am thankful for my mourning on Christmas Eve days. They pushed me forward to God. I apologize for the anger I was unable to control. I apologize to my children that I was not strong enough and could not cope with my loneliness. Only they know what they took from the Japanese Christmas and Oshougatsu of their childhood. I pray so that my ex-husband, the father of our children, may one day also believe in the forgiveness that only Christianity and Christmas offer. It’s not for a limited short time of Oshougatsu. It is a lasting and wonderfully liberating promise. I came to know that there is something more to hospitality – Christmas with Advent for every single day.
I wish Love dwells in all of us. And hospitality desire too. Yours, Miyabi Darja
P.S. If you would like to add some of Japan’s beautiful goodies to your Advent or Christmas table, check out the Miyabi Christmas offer. When you add to it some dishes of your own gastro creativity, I am sure your feast table will be rich, beautiful and fulfilling.