Passing through Roppongi Hills the other night I took these photos of the Christmas Illuminations of the year. Popular as ever, there were plenty of other photographers there. Both the inside and the outside of the Rokuhiru (as us cool cats say) were decked out with lights and glimmer, not least one hall which had a number of massive disco balls, a simple but very effective decoration! In international blogs and message boards I often read negative reviews of Roppongi, which in my mind is a little bit unfair. Sure it might be one of the more “dangerous” areas of Japan, but still it is safer than any European city I have ever visited. Of course, it all depends on what kind of activities you partake in. Roppongi might not be on the top of any travel lists, but it is still interesting enough to spend a few hours in! In the old days before they redecorated Sensoji temple in Asakusa I often ended my day tours of Tokyo in Roppongi, feeling it was a lively and interesting place to finish of a long day of sightseeing. These days I feel that Asakusa can be a tastier option but I still recommend Roppongi to all my foreign friends visiting who have more than the normal short 2-3 days to spend in the capital. More photos of Roppongi to come!
One of the things that often puzzles foreigners experiencing Christmas in Japan for the first time is the tradition to eat chicken at Christmas. Although a lot of people think of it as a rather old tradition it actually only started in the mid-seventies of the last century. Born as a marketing ploy by the advertising agency hired by Ketucky Fried Chicken, the original marketing campaign was launched on December 1st, 1974. Until then, Christmas had been a culinary blank for the Japanese. There was no particular food waiting to be associated with the event and the time was ripe for something to fill that blank. KFC was still fresh in Japan, having only been around since 1970 when the first restaurant opened in Nagoya (it closed soon, after about a year and the building it was located in was torn down in 2005). Japanese economy was growing rapidly and the people who had until then eaten almost only seafood, rice and vegetables found themselves with the money for the first time ever to introduce a whole new kind of food: chicken (burgers, beef and pork would come later). The slogan of the campaign was simple, “chicken for Christmas” and it got picked up big time, especially by the generation that had been born after war and were eager for a more international lifestyle. When something becomes big in Japan it really becomes big and from the start there were long lines to order your chicken. Standard practice was to make pre-orders a couple of months in advance and pick up on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on the way home after work.
These days the tradition lives on more as nostalgia than as the hip thing to do. We have a generation that has grown up and started families of their own having never known a Christmas without chicken, so I do not think the tradition will die out. In the beginning it was associated with KFC and every restaurant in Japan had a special Santa outfit for the Colonel, including this one that I found in Kamakura City, the ancient capital city of Japan, south of Yokohama and Tokyo. These days almost all restaurants, mail order companies and convenience stores do the Christmas Chicken thing, so if the lines are too long at your local KFC you can always try the local convenience store.
Other things to do on Christmas if you are Japanese is to go on dates (in case you are still of dating age) or to eat strawberry and cream cake, if you are too young to date or too old to be bothered. Personally I do not celebrate Christmas so it will be just another day in the office for me!
It is that time of the year again – Christmas illuminations and decorations are up all over Tokyo Midtown and the crowds are as thick as usual! Midtown is strangely photogenic so I can’t resist taking some pictures every time I pass through the area, and every year something changes slightly in their decorations. The Christmas tree though, is the same year after year and as popular as ever.
The illuminations in the park behind Midtown are always crowded and are scheduled to run until December 25th. Most of the crowds tend to stay at the bottom of the field though, and if you don’t mind walking a little up the field it is usually not crowded at all up there. In Japan Christmas is not a big family event, it is more for young couples enjoying a romantic night out. “Older” couples tend to order fried chicken and cake and have a quiet night in. Me, I will be working all through Christmas!
This year again, the famous Isetan department store in Shinjuku is putting on a christmas decorations campaign illustrated by Klaus Haapaniemi, the Finnish artist. Isetan and Haapaniemi has been collaborating for quite some time and the stories keep getting more and more elaborate, even with some recurring characters. This year the story seems to be more complicated and the interior decorations are as great as always. It is good to see that some department stores are not afraid to be different even during Christmas shopping season! I blogged about it in 2009. There is a site accompanying the decorations, complete with video and rather good song available for download.