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Why you should go to Japan at Christmas


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Japan. I’ll start off by saying that it’s one of those places that you really do have to go to. Not in that way where someone says; "Oh you just HAVE to take the family on a walking holiday to Snowdonia." You don’t have to do that. Or; "You just HAVE to add watercress if these Lemon Coconut Macaroon Tartlets are going to resemble anything close to passable." You don’t have to do that, either. Your Lemon Coconut Macaroon Tartlets are fine as they are. They’re really nice, actually.

I’m going to tell you why you should go to Japan for Christmas. "Why are you writing this now? It’s bloody February" you probably just sagely exclaimed at your computer whilst knowingly shaking your head, preparing to digitally tussle my hair with one hand. The other hand, I imagine, is firmly placed on your hip; primed to present the index finger, which will give a shrewd uncle-like wagging. Well, it’d be a lot cheaper to book it now, so that’s my reasoning behind it. Also, I just got back from there a few weeks ago, so I need to write it now. I’ll have forgotten about all of it if I leave this until December.

Anyway: Japan at Christmas, it’s a long way from home. Before you commit to anything, I imagine that you’re probably wondering; do the Starbucks over there still do the special Christmas edition coffees? The answer is yes they bloody do so don't worry about that. Initially, the whole prospect of acquiring your hot Yuletide-themed beverage can be intimidating. We all know that there’s nothing scarier than getting to a foreign country where you know nothing about the currency and have just spent 6,000 something on a Gingerbread Latte. The only thing you can do is hope for the best. Just hand your card over and hope that that translates to something less than a fiver. It probably does. Transaction wise, that’s all you need to worry about. Obviously when the language barrier situation pops up, just fall back on the trusty old British ‘point and shout’ until they’ve given you a pint of Carling, or whatever it is you want (probably a pint of Carling).

Going somewhere for Christmas where they don’t actually celebrate Christmas can seem an odd idea at first. Sure, there aren’t really any Christmas trees and your Nan isn’t there but how about this: KFC for Christmas. How can you turn that down? Ok, perhaps quite easily BUT you could run the risk of looking quite the mug.

KFC for Christmas is an unwritten law over in Japan. This is due to Western immigrants in the 80s wanting to find something similar to the traditional Christmas turkey they had grown accustomed to, but not being able to acquire it. Turkey is quite rare in Japan, so, somehow, the closest thing these pioneers could find to a Christmas dinner was a bucket of chicken from KFC. I think we can all agree that they probably didn’t look hard enough, but there we are. In retrospect we probably should have sent someone over with a bit more culinary inventiveness. A tradition was born and if you’re in Japan on Christmas and aren’t having KFC, you don’t know nothing ‘bout nothing. My friends and I were some of the unlucky few who didn’t have Christmas KFC, as you have to book it in advance if you want in on December 25th (!) Sure, I would say that Japanese KFC tastes a bit better than British KFC. But Christmas better? Probably not. But being there and seeing Japanese people lose it over Christmas KFC is kind of cool. You know what, I've always thought that KFC customers in the UK are a little blase for my liking so this was a really refreshing change.

Food is something they do differently over there and you need to be prepared to eat things that are impossible to prepare for. Of course, you can just go to Japanese McDonalds and Japanese Toby Carvery for every meal but that’s a bit silly. Also, pictures of chips aren’t exactly going to get you many likes on Instagram, (which I imagine is at least 70% of the reason people go on holiday) are they? No. Anyway, unless you’re sitting in the middle of Tokyo High Street, don’t expect to find an English menu. Expect to sit there confused and end up picking out whatever contains the most of your favourite looking Japanese-characters (Personally, I liked going for the exciting ones that looked a bit like this: 麺 or 食 compared to the boring ones that look like this: って). Anyway, whatever you order, expect to be greeted with raw chicken heart, which is actually pretty good. They also do that thing where they include poison in some dishes, which is something restaurants tend to avoid in England. Poisonous blowfish is the dish and it's just poisonous enough that it makes your mouth go a bit numb but don’t actually kill you.

I mentioned that the Japanese do not celebrate Christmas but they definitely acknowledge it. Their attitude towards it is similar to the way British people seem to feel about Black Friday these days; we think it’s important, we act like it’s a thing that’s been a part of our culture for years but we don’t get a day off work for it. Although Japanese people don’t punch each other in the entrance to Ryman’s in a frantic rush to be the first to get the hot new offerings from Biro on Christmas so maybe they’re not that similar. They celebrate Christmas in the way that they’ll wander round with a Santa hat on Christmas Day but don’t exchange gifts.

It is by far the weirdest place I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen it all. The people are the shyest folk you could ever meet but then also the friendliest. Everywhere you go, there are warnings telling you to save power but at the same time, you are surrounded by more neon than your eyeballs can physically process.

An interesting thing I learnt whilst I was there was that Japan’s birth rate is so low that they sell more adult diapers per year than baby diapers. And I don’t think that can all be blamed on Christmas KFC. Honestly every other shop you see is an adult diaper store (that isn't true). Japanese people just seem to not procreate as often as the rest of the world. The population is shrinking at an alarming rate and, if it carries on like this, there will be one third less Japanese people on this Earth in 2050. There are a lot of different theories regarding why this may be. One is that, they are less social than they used to be. Another is that they are most preoccupied with their hobbies. An unfortunate side effect to having loads of cool futuristic shit. Although I can't imagine British people would stop shagging if they suddenly had access to stuff like a toilet that yells breaking news at you. Also, the fact that Japan make the most realistic sex dolls in the world might have something to do with the downturn in pregnancies ( I don’t know a great deal about the sex dolls (honestly) but, unlike real partners, they apparently don’t expect birthday presents or make you wash, which are of course, both very important issues for the modern Japanese man. I'm not sure if this information is paramount to a Christmas trip to Japan but I thought you'd like to know.

Ok, now we’ve got past ‘Japanese people not shagging that much’, let’s get to the important stuff: Where are you going to stay? Well, if you’re anything like me (financially inept), you’re probably not going to be staying at the Four Seasons Tokyo. You’re probably not even going to stay at the Travelodge Tokyo. Of course, there are cheaper hotels and hostels you can stay at but, if you really don’t want to spend much and you want to have a bloody Japanese time, you need to stay at a capsule hotel. Maybe not every night but at least for a bit.

Due to the fact that a member of our party pissed himself in our capsule and we had to leave in a bit of a rush, I won’t mention what this particular hotel was called, but it was located in Shinjuku, Tokyo and I would definitely go back if we were welcome. It was the equivalent of about £12 a night which you of course don’t even notice anyway because you’re on holiday and the money doesn’t seem real. It’s real proper foreign holiday money; Yen. You get the little hole in some of the coins that only get when you know you’re on holiday so that’s a real bonus. The capsule hotel itself is an experience like no other. If you drink enough, you feel like you’re sleeping in a space ship which is of course, a great laugh. If you and I have more in common that our aforementioned financial situation, and you are, like me, tattooed on visible parts of your body, that can add another exciting twist to your stay.

Tattoos aren't too popular and, as the above sign demonstrates: You may not be welcome in a few places if you have them. That's maybe another reason why you should go in the winter months; it's a lot more comfortable wearing a tattoo-encapsulating coat when it's minus-four degrees outside.

It is estimated that at least 20% of British people are tattooed. In Japan, 0.1% of people are tattooed. Unfortunately, that 0.1% are generally assumed to be Yakuza (Japanese gangsters) and therefore, not welcome in friendly public establishments like a capsule hotel. Even if you are non-Japanese and are therefore obviously not Yakuza, it is assumed you must just be part of a Western equivalent like say, the Mafia. Just a quick note, saying the word ‘Yakuza’ out loud in Japan is about as welcome as shouting ‘Voldemort’ in the middle of a Post-Quidditch World Cup Final Ministry of Magic security briefing.

Remember that time in Britain (the 70s) where people assumed that, if you were at all tattooed, then you must be either a) a sailor, or b) a criminal? Unfortunately, the Japanese attitude to tattoos, much like their style of stand-up comedy, is very much 70s British. Really though, that isn’t very important. They won’t be chasing you down the street because you’ve got a tattoo of some clouds surrounding your Grandmother’s name on your forearm, you just won’t be able to do stuff like piss around in the public baths with all the old Japanese blokes.

Japan is one of those places where it seems so foreign that you assume even the toilets must flush the other way round. Unfortunately that doesn’t happen. Although, if you are a fan of going to the bathroom then the toilets over there are absolutely unrivalled. They say hello, they warm your arse up, they cool it down, they warm one cheek up whilst cooling the other cheek, they play music if you’re worried about other people in the toilet hearing you poo, they say other stuff (I couldn’t understand anything past ‘Hello’ or ‘Excuse me, Where Carling?’), they just bloody do it all. Other odd things include light switch covers being horizontal (compared to our much more traditional vertical British light switch covers), and, the fact that you can smoke near enough anywhere you like inside, but nowhere outside. I’m not 100% on the reasoning of that one but I think it’s something to do with littering/Japanese people wanting to look cool whilst wondering around Japanese Asda.

Japanese Christmas, in general, is a night to go out and have a good drink. Of course, you can do that anywhere, but if you’re looking for something a bit more Christmassy, then just stay a few days longer until the 31st. New Year’s Eve is much more of a Christmas-like affair in Japan. Not in the way where Santa turns up and gives you a new Biro. In the way where you stay in and spend it with your family. Odds are though, you might not be there with your family. So you’ll just be staying in on your own. So not like Christmas at all, really. Maybe go with your family. Or at least a friend or two.

What I’m getting at is; just go. It has something for everyone and isn’t as expensive as you’re led to believe. Karaoke, the big arcades, being able to buy sachets of placenta or lip gloss for babies in department stores, they’ve got all of that and it’s even better than I’m making it sound. If all of this hasn't convinced you to part with a few hundred of your British pounds, then how about this; Vending machines which sell lovely beers. Yeah.

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