Voices | Fiction

Christmas on Happy Road: Escape from Shibuya

by Andreas Neuenkirchen

Contributing Writer

Chapter 1

The best thing about leaving his neighborhood of Happy Road Oyamadai was that he would always return to it. That was the thought that gave Franz comfort now, in this noisy and confusing environment. Not a lot of comfort, though. Under his beard, he muttered, “We will never get out, we will never get out …”

Looking around, his friend O.G. conceded: “It is somewhat hard to navigate, isn’t it? With three different versions of every floor. All those numbers, and letters, and curved arrows. I never trusted curved arrows; they can mean anything. We should have picked an easier Tokyu Hands.”

Franz sighed. “I hate Shibuya.”

“That’s a bit much. Where is your Christmas spirit?”

“Asks the man in the Bad Religion hoodie.”

The truth was: Franz loved Christmas, and not even Shibuya was going to change that. He had never been cynical about it, not even as an all-knowing, world-weary teenager. He loved the decorated homes, the lights in the streets, the food, the family gatherings, the giving and receiving of gifts. Even the music. OK, as a teenager he didn’t like the music. By now, however, being well into his 30s, he had amassed quite a collection of Christmas-themed CDs. He might have been motivated by irony when he started buying them, but the irony had long faded, making way for true love, as irony often does. It was usually in October that he began asking his wife, Hina, when oh when they could finally start decorating their place and play carols. With the new house that they shared with his parents-in-law since summer, there would be even more to decorate. He couldn’t wait to let his in-laws experience a “real German Christmas,” as he had boastfully promised. With Hina being pregnant, it would also be the last exclusively grown-up holiday they would celebrate for years to come.

If he could find a decent tree. He had expected that they would only sell fake ones at Tokyu Hands. But he couldn’t have imagined just how fake they would be. They came in all imaginable colors except green, with blinking lights and pre-attached Christmas greetings, all written in English. He voiced his irritation to O.G.

“I can’t see anything majorly wrong with these trees,” his friend said. The initials he went by stood for Original Gaijin, the title of the notorious activist blog that had made the Californian a minor local celebrity. On that blog, he had just trashed Christmas in both the U.S. and Japan. According to him, in one country it was just a capitalist travesty forever separated from its religious roots, and in the other country even more so. He only agreed to accompany Franz on his shopping trip so they could talk about TV. Subtitling international shows for the Japanese market was the primary source of income for multilingual Franz these days, and O.G. just loved television. To wind up his bookish buddy, he often declared, “TV dramas are the new books,” to which Franz habitually replied that such a misinformed statement only showed that O.G. understood neither television nor literature. O.G. didn’t mind the verbal jousting their friendship was based on, as long as Franz let him watch the new episodes of the shows he was working on. He was disappointed to hear that his friend’s only current project was “Spring Flower Rhapsody,” a South Korean soap opera on TBS. With his European and American relations preparing for the Christmas holidays, and the Japanese preparing for New Year’s vacation, not much work was coming in.

“These trees are not green,” Franz said. “They are,” he looked at one of the more definable models, “… silvery.”

“They’re decorated. Don’t you decorate Christmas trees in Germany?”

“We do. But they don’t come decorated, and we usually make sure that you can still see some parts of the tree under the decoration. These glittery abominations are so … American. No offense.”

“Some taken, actually. But never mind. I wouldn’t call it American style, though.”

“What would you call it?”

“Shibuya-kei.”

Franz laughed. His telephone vibrated. He looked at the display. He stopped laughing. “My parents,” he said. He looked worried. “It’s the middle of the night in Germany. I’d better get that.”

O.G. couldn’t grasp the content of the German conversation that followed. Franz seemed slightly agitated, getting ever more so while he spoke, but there was no sign of the full-blown drama usually associated with late-night phone calls from your elderly parents. When Franz hung up, he didn’t talk. O.G. had to shake him out of his thoughts. “Are they alright?” he asked.

Franz replied, although he still seemed partly lost in thought. “Yes, they are alright. But they are not in Germany.”

“Where are they?”

“Narita Airport. I must have forgotten about that.”

“Merry Christmas, my friend.”

Read Chapter 2 Mystery Trains

Andreas Neuenkirchen is a German novelist and essayist based in Tokyo. “Christmas on Happy Road” is a work of fiction. Some of the names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.