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Christmas in Japan is not for faint of heart


Special To The Japan Times

“Santa’s not coming! You liar!!”

What parent’s heart wouldn’t break upon hearing such a wail from a child, due to having to explain that a promised gift of video game software that was ordered online — scheduled for delivery ahead of Christmas Day — but didn’t arrive?

It’s apparently the practice of many families to return to their hometowns during the year-end holidays, and rather than carry along gifts for the kids aboard trains or planes, parents shop for them on the Internet and arrange for the goods to be sent directly to the grandparents’ house.

The problem, Shukan Post (Dec. 19) reports, is that Japan’s super-efficient parcel-distribution system is on the verge of collapse. Consumers may encounter considerable delays in deliveries — or outright refusal in some cases to even accept items for shipment.

It goes without saying that the pressure on delivery companies rises out of seasonal demand. The biggest headache for the transport companies is said to be osechi, special foods traditionally consumed during the new year, which must be shipped in refrigerated trucks.

But as business publications have been warning for the past several months, Japan also faces a looming shortage of truck drivers. From a peak of 920,000 drivers in 2006, the current number has declined to around 800,000. This situation is due in part to the aging of the work force, creating a skewed demographic. Compared with 35 percent of drivers licensed to operate large trucks who are age 50 or above, license holders under age 30 number only around 4 percent.

Aggravating the shortfall is a more rigorous licensing examination for heavy-duty trucks, and safety laws are going into effect requiring drivers to take periodic rests. As these developments threaten to cut into their earnings, more drivers are leaving for other, more lucrative occupations like operating construction equipment. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism is projecting a shortfall of around 140,000 drivers. So while the number of shipped items continues to rise sharply, transport companies’ capacity keeps dropping, making delays inevitable.

If Christmas merely leaves you exasperated and broke, you might want to consider letting off some steam by marching in a “Bah! Humbug!” parade for Christmas haters. Aera (Dec. 22) reports that back in 2006, a bachelor named Katsuhiro Furusawa (known as “Furukatsu” for short), who had been tired of feeling lonely and depressed by the lack of female companionship during the holiday season — decided to let off some steam and recruit like-minded males to his cause. On Christmas Eve of that year Furusawa stood outside JR Akihabara Station handling out flyers emblazoned with the slogan “Kurisumasu funsai!” (“Crush Christmas!”).

Furusawa has since organized a support group named Kakumeiteki Himote Domei (Revolutionary Unattractive Male Alliance), or Kakuhidou for short, and set up a website (in Japanese) at kakuhidou.fumizuki.net.

As a matter of fact, on this very day (Dec. 21) the group will take to the streets and march against Christmas. Participants are invited to assemble at Shibuya’s Miyashita Park, just off Meiji Dori, from 3:30 p.m. The march, accompanied by a police escort, commences from 4 p.m., so shoppers in the area may very well catch a glimpse of not-so-jolly old “Furukatsu” and his troop of elves, brandishing placards and chanting anti-Christmas slogans.

For those determined to raise a toast at Christmas, Sunday Mainichi (Dec. 28) polled a wine expert and managers at two import specialty shops, Kaldi Coffee Farm and Seijo Ishii, for recommendations on affordably priced sparkling wines, reds and whites. Most were from France, Italy and Spain, although sommelier Akihiko Yamamoto, a lecturer at Academie du Vin, also recommended Korbel Brut champagne from California. Since the Reagan presidency it has been served at eight White House inauguration parties and at just ¥2,740 at retail promises good value for money.

One of the weekly magazines — Shukan Asahi Geino (Dec. 25) — is getting into the spirit of the season by offering its readers a chance to win a drawing for original, one-of-a-kind autographed photos of the young ladies who had posed (with most of their clothing) for its cover photos over the course of 2014. The entry form, included in the magazine, must be postmarked no later than Dec. 22.

Finally, Shukan Post (Dec. 26) ran a nostalgic look at the ghosts of romantic Christmas’ past. It seems that for dating couples the first character used to write seiya (holy night, i.e., Christmas Eve) can be switched to another character, also read sei, that means sex.

Back in the heady days of the economic bubble of the late 1980s, the obligatory components for a successful Dec. 24 seduction were a dinner of French cuisine at the now-defunct Akasaka Prince Hotel, and a pricey bauble (of ¥100,000 or so) from Tiffany.

“I decided to give her a necklace, wrapped in blue paper, during desert,” a man in his 50s recalls to the magazine. “She was overjoyed; but out of the corner of my eye I spotted a man at a nearby table with his date, doing exactly the same thing I was, right down to the same blue paper.

“Later that evening I saw the necklace glittering against her skin,” he continues. “It was all she was wearing. I can barely recall her face any more, but the memory of the intense passion that we felt is unforgettable.”

  • butterfly

    haha I was born and raised in Japan. I think this article too enlarge beyond bounds or the truth. The photo is also purposely used super minority.

  • BrainOverBullet

    Blame on Jews.

  • VaunaMann

    Sure doesn’t stop the decorations and all..

  • fairleft

    One way to increase the number of truck drivers is to pay them more money.

  • blondein_tokyo

    Because he doesn’t have a gf, he wants to try and crush Christmas? What kind of mindset is that? “I’m not happy so no one should be.” Wow.

  • blondein_tokyo

    Because he doesn’t have a gf, he wants to try and crush Christmas? What kind of mindset is that? “I’m not happy so no one should be.” Wow.