Over a recent weekend, I was having a drink in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) at the foot of Mount Fuji with a view of a Japanese garden plunged into darkness. The environs were dreamy and calm — live piano and soft voices against swishing hanten (winter overcoats) alongside caviar and whiskey catching the low light of the candles.

But the otherwise elegant atmosphere was stunningly blighted: a blinking cone shape mimicking a Christmas tree, underneath which was a dancing holographic Santa Claus resembling a yuletide Farquaad from the animated film “Shrek” — both cartoonish and glaringly out of place. It was yet another reminder of the spurious design choices that appear in Japan come December.

During my first Christmas in Japan, a friend took me to see the illuminations in Marunouchi. We got to the street and, perhaps buzzed from several glasses of wine, my politeness filter had gotten less precise. I blurted, “Is this it?” It looked no different from the charmless Christmas trees outside an enormous American mall — generic beige lights wrapped around a branch sinking the tree further into darkness; it was underwhelming at best, tacky at worst. As I watched the crowds in breathless delight, I could only feel a mismatch between the decorations and the hype.