Sunday, December 25, 2005

Bonenkai, Christmas in Japan, and Remembering Japanese names

I love how Japanese people always reply back to one's emails with a sincere, "remember me?" They are so cute in there curiousity of how we acknowledge them, and on top of all the politeness, they don't want to offend our feelings knowing that one makes so many new aquaintances that sometimes, we actually do forget. Especially when it comes to the more difficult pronounciation of some Japanese names. Girls over-all tend to be easier for me to remember. A lot of Japanese men have unique names which are often hard to say, and much easier to forget. It took me forever to remember Sayaka's dad's first name, Kazutaka. Not that it's overly hard, but it's one of those names that doesn't come up often. I always was so formal in calling him Miyamoto-sama, that I totally neglected to memorize his first name the first two months of dating his daughter! Yikes!

Sometimes even some of my good friends will write me a "remember me" message to my phone or email. It's not that I forgot my best friend, but it's just something that Japanese do out of politeness. In a way, it becomes a type of informal, albeit extremely humble, greeting which is similar to "long time no see, how are things going?"

Around this time of year, holiday seasons and what not, the Japanese celebrate 忘年会 (bonenkai) which is the end of the year events often culminating in many business parties and year end activities. The culmination of these events leads to the biggest holiday in Japan, お正月 O-Shougatsu aka New Years. Everyone sheds their end of the year worries, and gets ready to start the new year off right.

Christmas not being as big in Japan as the states, although there are quite a few of decorations and white Gaijin running around going from school to school dressed as Santa. It's funny, but one of the things a white English speaking foreigner has to put up with is the infamous beging of Japanese schools trying to get you to dress as the big man in red and come visit all the little children. After getting past the humilation of realizing the only reason you're being asked to do this is because your white, and the Japanese don't believe in "ethnic Santas" is one culture shock, but after that it's up to you to accept or decline the invitation.

When I recieved my inviation to dress as Santa, I didn't hesitate. I was ready to go spread some holiday cheer and I thoroughly enjoyed all the bright smiling faces. Some of the kids got so overly excited they started crying. Others kept jumping up at random and clapping their little hands in an abrupt outburst of joy, to which their teachers hushed them and begged them to let Santa-san speak. I gave a speach, sweating heavily underneath a heavy red satin suit which they keep locked away just for special events like these. With my spectacles, and extra pillows for padded gerth, I shouted a big hefty, "Ho-ho-ho Merry Christmas!" I finished with a speach, and drew the kids a big picture of Pikachu, to show them that even Santa respects Japanese culture. They all cheered, and I was off with a wink and a twinkle in my eye.

Exiting down the hall I was so much in character that I shouted another Ho-ha and statled my small petite escort, a quiet Japanese kindergarden teacher, who laughed after I shot her a playful Santa Clause wink. Behind, in the auditorium, came another burst of cheering and child screams.

I'm glad I was able to play that role, if nothing more than just a stereotype, sometimes we have to forgoe our egos and sucumb to more simplistic thinking, even if it means humbling ourselves before others. Santa's obviously white, because that's how he is in the movies, right? But for me it wasn't about racial stereotypes, because after having experienced the gleeful hoots of the bright eyed children, it became more about spreading some joy, Christmas cheer, and loving my fellow man.

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