Hina had made her husband, Franz, agree with her that his parents, who were visiting from Germany, might expect more from their first trip to Japan than hanging around Happy Road Oyamadai. They were going through their options. “I will not take them to any robot, ninja or “Kill Bill” restaurant,” Franz stated. “I will do many things for my parents, but I won’t do that.”
“How about Shibuya?” Hina suggested.
“I’ve been there once this year already,” he replied. “That’s more than enough.”
“Come on, it’s for your parents. See it as your last trip to Shibuya this decade.”
Suddenly, Franz looked hopeful. “You mean I don’t have to go at all next year?”
“Well, next year begins a new decade.”
“Ha! You see, this is a pet peeve of mine…”
“One of the many.”
“Decades go from one to 10, not from zero to nine. All those lazy pieces about ‘the decade in review’ are too early. The 2010s still have one more year to go.”
“So, everyone has that wrong except you?”
“There are others, but I admit we are a minority.”
Hina seriously considered her husband’s approach. Then she said: “What about Jesus?”
“What about him?”
“Your calendar starts with his birth, which would be Year Zero, I suppose. If the zero year still belongs to the previous decade, then poor Baby Jesus wasn’t born in any decade.”
Franz struggled. “Well, it was only one week to go until the next year, so it was a statistically insignificant decade. Also, Jesus is forgiving.”
“Why can’t you be more like Jesus?”
Franz stroked his beard and said nothing.
Hina made her case for Shibuya.
“It will not be too strenuous on your folks,” she said. “We’ll just rush them over the scramble crossing once, so they have something to talk about when they get back home. Then I’ll reserve a table at a nice restaurant with a view at one of those fancy tall buildings that weren’t there a couple of weeks ago.”
Franz relented. His parents, Marianne and Armin, liked the plan. Still, Marianne asked Hina: “Will it not be too much for you? How is the baby these days?”
She touched her bump. “I admit, it was easier when he was at fruit stage.”
“Have we already reached vegetable stage?” Franz asked. “Time flies.”
“Yes, this week, he has outgrown mango and is now eggplant. Soon he will be coconut. Imagine that, carrying a coconut in my belly.”
“They only mean size, not shape or texture.”
Hina obsessed over one of the many “so, you’re having a baby” manga she bought in preparation for the event. This particular one compared the new life growing inside of her to fruits and vegetables — only in scale. After reading it, though, it was impossible not to think of their unborn son in terms of produce with a smiling face, especially since this was exactly the vision the manga’s artist had chosen to convey.
When the four of them left the house to head for their intergenerational night out in Shibuya, Hina suggested: “Why don’t we walk to Kuhombutsu Station. It’s more scenic and we would still be in time to catch the express at Jiyugaoka.”
“Express trains are very important to the Japanese,” Franz lectured his parents. “Whenever you see someone jumping up from their seat like they were bitten by a snake, rushing out the train and jumping into another one on the adjacent track, it doesn’t mean they suddenly realized they were on the wrong train. It means they have spotted an express that will take them to their destination two minutes earlier. If they catch a particularly rare one, they’ll have material for days of small talk.”
Hina shot him a look. His mother informed her: “Franz told us that the trains in Japan are always late. That’s a pity since they seem to be such an important part of your life.”
“Franz said what?”
“Nuts!” Franz called out, waving the pack he had bought earlier. “Who wants nuts?” He was able to distract them from the topic and convince them to skip the scenic route and just head to Oyamadai Station where they could take a local. It came and left on time. When it passed the one traveling in the opposite direction on the same line, Franz suddenly jumped from his seat like he was bitten by a snake. “I know what we have to do!” he shouted. “Stop the train!”
“We will not stop the train,” Hina replied with great certainty.
“Then let’s get out at the next station.”
“Jiyugaoka? We were going to change to the Toyoko Line there anyway.”
“Oh, we will change. But not to the Toyoko Line.”
When they hurried through Jiyugaoka Station, Hina asked Franz to explain himself. Beaming as if touched by a higher truth, he said: “I know a magical place full of light and Christmas spirit! It’s not even that far from our home! And it’s certainly not Shibuya.”
“It’s Nikotama, isn’t it?”
“You know me so well.”
Hina thought about it. “It might actually work.” When they had moved to Oyamadai, the assembly of malls around Futakotamagawa Station had quickly become the place where they went for the goods that their very own Happy Road couldn’t provide. In no time, they had picked up the local’s habit of calling the place Nikotama, based on an alternative reading of the kanji and the Japanese passion for abbreviations.
When Marianne saw the illuminated wonder that was the Rise shopping center with its massive Christmas tree in the main square, adorned by mountable UFOs, space rockets with Santa hats and a single giant eye with a TV screen for a pupil, she gasped: “My God …”
“… it’s full of stars!” Armin picked up.
Electric Moon Xmas was the name the merchants of Nikotama had picked for their spectacle, and there could hardly have been one more fitting. Staring into the TV-eye, Marianne exclaimed: “See, this is how I have always imagined it! This is the real Tokyo!”
It’s a suburban shopping center on the verge of being in Kanagawa, Franz thought. But of course, in a way, his mom was right.
Later, after a beefsteak dinner with a glorious view of the Tama River from a Hawaiian restaurant at the local Takashimaya department store, Armin said: “Now, that’s what I call Christmas. That must have been our nicest, certainly most colorful celebration this decade.”
For once, Franz shut his mouth. It was Christmas, after all.
End of season two.
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.