Name: Santa Paradise Yamamoto
Occupation: Authorized Santa Claus (by the Greenland Santa Claus Association)
Likes: Cooking gyōza dumplings
1. You were selected as the first Santa in Japan to be accredited by the World Santa Claus Congress, based in Greenland. What inspired you to apply in the first place? One day, 18 years ago, I was asked to become a Santa Claus. This was probably because of my Santa-like body shape and, luckily, I had just had a child. Having a child and the right body shape is important if you want to be a Santa Claus.
2. What duties are you expected to perform as a Santa each year? I visit children’s welfare homes and hospitals during the Christmas season. I also appear on TV and radio programs.
3. Do you have any happy Christmas memories as a child? When I woke up on Christmas Day, there was always a huge pile of presents by my bed. What’s more, Santa left footprints in the snow.
4. Any happy memories as Santa you’d like to share? Whenever people see me in my Santa costume, they say, “Oh! You’re a real Santa Claus!” This is always a memorable experience.
5. As a bona fide Santa Claus, what’s likely to be your first stop in Japan on Christmas Eve? I always stop at hospitals first, then I visit hotels. I have done this every Christmas Eve for the past 18 years.
6. What is your Christmas gift of choice? I choose whatever suits each person, whether they be adults or children.
7. Do people leave you cookies or a small gift/snack for you on your Christmas rounds? What are your favorite items? Yes, good children leave me hot drinks and piles of homemade cookies. Although the drinks are usually cold by the time I arrive, they help warm up my freezing body. Sometimes children leave me letters and drawings of Santa Claus. This really touches me.
8. You have also made a name for yourself as the inventor of mambonsai (a pop culture activity that involves decorating bonsai with small plastic figurines). What inspired you to share your enthusiasm of this pastime with the general public? Mambonsai used to be seen as an elderly person’s hobby and was not really followed by young people. However, one of my foreign friends told me my work was “awesome” after seeing it, and so I decided to publish a book on mambonsai with translations in English.
9. What is the activity’s relationship with the mambo dance style? They are closely related! Mambonsai are bonsai made by mambo music — they grow by listening to mambo.
10. You are also a connoisseur of gyōza dumplings. Any secret gyōza tips you’d like to share? Fold the wrappers carefully so the filling does not come out.
11. Regular gyōza or sui-gyōza (boiled dumplings)? Definitely regular gyoza. Japan invented this type, not China.
12. What’s the strangest request you’ve ever been asked in your line of work? I was asked to compose and play a song for “Okasan to Issyo,” NHK’s educational TV program for children. The song was called “Takoyaki Nambo-mambo,” and the lyrics were sung in an Osakan dialect (which I found odd because I was born in Sapporo).
13. What do you miss most about Japan when you are overseas? I usually find myself wishing there is a convenience store in the neighborborhood.
14. Name the person in Japan you admire the most? Taro Okamoto. Art is an explosion!
15. What’s the most exciting/outrageous thing you have ever done? I joined a convention where authorized Santa Clauses from all over the world visited Japan together.
16. What song best describes your work ethic? “Pachinko” by Tokyo Panorama Mambo Boys. It’s a fusion of mambo and pachinko.
17. How would you find a needle in a haystack? Roll around the ground and — Ouch! — found it.
18. Who would win a fight between a lion and tiger? A tiger, because I was born in the Year of the Tiger.
19. What do you want to be when you grow up? A cute, fattish old man who is loved by my wife, children and grandchildren.
20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? Pursue what you love — and be a Santa if you want.
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