Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, December 26, 2005

Can One Be TOO Enlightened?

When I first began my adventures in the Land of the Rising Sun back in 1990, Christmas lights were still something of a novelty. Sure, one often saw them in the glitzier shopping and night life areas, but in the more local commercial and residential areas they were uncommon beyond the little Christmas trees that people (mainly children and young women) had in their homes.

In 1993 I ran a string of lights around the glass back door of my apartment and scored a major coup. It really attracted attention in the neighborhood, and I could often hear groups of people (mainly children and young women) saying, "Ah! Kiree! (beautiful)" out in the parking lot in the evening. (Of course, if I opened my curtains, let alone my door, they immediately fled.) I even remember people getting all excited when, at around the same time, one of the local shopping centers decorated one of its nearby trees with lights.

Ah...those were the days. Since I've said that, you might thing that perhaps the present day is quite different.


Now it seems that Christmas lighting is all the rage. There still aren't many to be seen in the residential neighborhoods, but there seems to be a sort of competition going on among public facilities and businesses. Actually, it has been in progress since about the turn of the century. At first it was very tasteful and enjoyable. Yes, I did say, "At first." Unfortunately, like so many things, it went overboard fast.

Last year the Aso Community Hall was the site of the Aso Illumination Festival. I saw it, and it was a rather nice Christmas event. Basically, it consisted of speeches, a dance performance by a local traditional dance troupe (of which my daughter is a member), more speeches, a nice, Christmasy performance by a local junior high concert band, more speeches, a bingo game for prizes contributed by local businesses, more speeches, and...FINALLY...the lighting of the enormous mass of Christmas lights they had set up all around the square. Except for the speeches, it was all very enjoyable in a sentimental, small town sort of way (just the way I like it). I thought they did a really good job with the lights, too, and I'm sorry I don't have a picture of it to show you.

Unfortunately, as it turned out, the neighboring town of Tamatsukuri immediately had a copy-cat event of its own, and people were saying it was more impressive. That left the noses of the people of Aso very much out of joint. Matters got even worse after the incorporation, because Tamatsukuri's downtown area beat out Aso's for the official administrative and primary commercial center of our newly-created Namegata City. Not willing to take all that defeat sitting down, the leaders of the local mom-and-pop businesses of (former) Aso got together and decided to beef up this year's Illumination Festival even more. My daughter danced again, but, unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), I was unable to attend. I was, however, able to see what they did to the Community Hall's Christmas light display this year:

This is the result.

Now, I like blue as much as the next man. In fact, I really like blue. It's my favorite color. That's why I happily drive a BLUE car.

However, this is starting to make me feel blue. It's hard to get the full effect looking at these pictures instead of getting swamped by that blue overload, but it is definitely what I would call overkill.

I haven't seen the Tamatsukuri display. Frankly, I'm afraid to. Even a little ways down the street from the Aso Community Hall one starts finding very gaudily-decorated businesses such as this one:

Yes, I know it's blurry. It's hard to take a good picture with a small, handheld digital camera on a freezing-cold night with a hard wind blowing...especially when you're having to work hard to keep a straight face. How about that heart? It blinks in a sort of pattern, I guess so that it appears to be beating. Now, I realize that New Year is the main holiday event in Japan, as it is in most Asian countries, so Christmas isn't quite so significant here as it is in the Western world, but the fact that the Japanese seem to have turned it into a sort of December Valentine's Day (or, perhaps more accurately, a winter sex festival) is still something I have trouble with. Forgive me; I'm a traditionalist, particularly at this time of the year. The little Christmas tree, Santa Claus, presents, etc. could be kind of cool, but that heart seems hideously out of place (not to mention tacky).

Several of the businesses in the Aso downtown area are similarly decked all out in very brightly-colored lights. Some of them are very pretty. Others range from kind of silly to annoyingly absurd. I'm sorry I don't have more pictures to show you; the ones I even tried to photograph came out even blurrier than the ones I posted here. I know I should be fair. Obviously people put a lot of time, effort, and love into their work, and I'm sure they're all proud of their "babies". However, as a neutral observer and citizen of this town, I can't help thinking that this latest round of "keep up with the Suzukis" is going beyond wacky. I'm almost afraid to see what they come up with next year.

It's not necessarily limited to Aso, either. The signs and trees in front of Kashima Jingu Station are all decked out in a huge mass of Christmas lights, too. However, though rather ostentatious, it doesn't quite approach the tacky overkill on the other side of Lake Kitaura.

Today's Daily Yomiuri newspaper included an editorial bemoaning the recent changes for the worse in Japanese culture. They were mainly concerned with the fact that increasing obsession with short-term economic gain has led to a wide range of crimes and scandals during the past year, several of which were either deadly or potentially so. Until the 21st century, Japanese companies tended to emphasize both long-term goals and pride in their good image. That Japan seems to have faded if not disappeared. So has the Japan in which simplicity was considered a virtue. That's too bad, because I still tend to think simplicity can be a very good thing. That's why my contribution to my neighborhood's Christmas lights continues to be as follows:

Still just one glass door hung with a string of twinkling lights. It's hard to see from the street as you drive by, but I think it's worth it.

So is my family's very own, little Christmas tree on top of the TV (though it was more fun when it was piled high with presents)!



  • Merry Christmas Kevin *<:)>

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:07 AM  

  • I feel sorry and a little bit ashamed that Japanese people are susceptible to fads or commercialsm, Christmas presents, trees, cakes, fancy hotel dinner for couples and now Christmas lights.

    By Anonymous j-apricot, at 12:08 PM  

  • You don't need to feel too ashamed, J-Apricot. After all, my own country wrote the book on Christmas commercialism. At least, here in Japan, I was able to get into a Toys R Us for some last-minute shopping on December 24th without having to park a kilometer away, wait an hour at the register, or resort to ninja combat to get down the aisles.

    (In my college days, I used to spend winter vacations working at Toys R Us! Now that was insane!)

    I might add that Christmas lights, and then colored Christmas lights, and then the whole concept of using them to decorate buildings, were all invented in the U.S.A. in the first place.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:25 PM  

  • Merry Christmas Kevin.

    I have the same feeling about the lights - the holiday has been secularized and commercialized for a long time, but at least there is still a religious context when done in societies where there are a lot of Christians (USA and Europe).

    But in Japan the public displays and odd new group behaviors is is not a celebration of Christmas but just another way to get people to spend.

    I like lighting displays and such - like the ones in your home. The public ones you show here are objectionable to me (and poorly executed) because they are devoid of any meaning, and really seem a slap in the face to anyone who is a Christian here.

    Or maybe I'm just being my usual 'Irascible Panda' self, and blowing things out of proportion.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 12:27 PM  

  • Yes indeed, Christmas commercialism has spread to far and wide land.

    Even India and China is not spared of this virus. Perhaps it is not a bad thing.

    By Blogger Robin, at 12:47 PM  

  • Every city has it’s own Christmas lighting display, no matter how its magnificent or not; as if you have a kind warmth spirits to share your holiday FEELINGS with your family, your relatives ,your friends. That would be the MOST SPARKLING light in this world as that beating heart showed in your pic.

    Tks. for taking those photos in a freezing-cold night with a hard wind blowing . THANK YOU FOR YOUR SHARING.

    By Anonymous l.c_d, at 1:16 PM  

  • Commercialism is inevitable in this time and age. In a multi-cultural society like in Malaysia, commercial buildings are decked up during major festivals. Every culture has its turn at seeing their festivals played up. It works for tourism too.

    By Blogger kelly, at 4:48 PM  

  • Home decorations project more warmth than those you see at shopping malls, etc.

    MM, thanks for sharing.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 4:49 PM  

  • MC MM.

    I've always enjoyed holiday light displays of any stripe or variety.

    However, I believe the best part of the Christmas season is when people spend time thinking about someone besides themselves.

    This "Christmas Spirit" that spurs us to compassion in December where we might turn a skeptical eye in July is what makes the light displays sparkle a little bit brighter.

    As self-appointed spokesperson for Christmas Spirit, LLC, I would like to remind American readers that you can deduct any last minute help for tsunami, hurricanes, and earthquake victims from your 2005 taxes.

    Mercy Corps makes it easy.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 12:39 AM  

  • Reminds me of Malaysia City Councils' habit to put on lights on, around, all over trees by road side. Seems like quite a lot of taxpayer money was spent on changing these lights display, like, once every 2 months!

    Vaguely remember the trend pattern as: glittering LED lights on the tree; then the ghostly purple spotlights shining up the tree trunks; the plastic-made coconut trees with neon lights, and strings of lights hanging from the trees... what is the latest trend?

    A picture from KennySia.

    By Blogger YD, at 1:34 AM  

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