PUBLISHED Thursday, 29 December 2011 On The Road
Nozawa Onsen, Japan
I arrived back home for an ‘indeterminate’ period of time. I’m yet to discover what that really means. Setting my employment struggles aside, I’m rather glad to be back. This was my first Christmas in two years. Last year I hopped hundreds of miles of local trains* from Sendai to Nozawa Onsen to spend Christmas day tumbling down the powdery peaks of Nagano.Day three, I was a small crumpled ball on the tatami floor. (Worth it.)
Christmas passed practically unnoticed by my foetus. I remember it was signalled silently only when I threw my oniisan’s Christmas present on him as he slept. We ate a make-do Christmas dinner, neither turkey nor roast potatoes, but a massive bowl of donburi and gently warmed sake. Not a morsel of tasteless tinsel in sight amongst the wood panelling and scrawled kanji menu. There were five of us, including the owner/chef. It being Christmas was irrelevant to the lack of diners in the establishment. Japan brims with stagnant economy although this never seems to press on daily life in the same way that it does in Europe. The threat of British poverty has such force that often times I dread even going outside. But in Japan, a quiet restaurant is just that. They exist, waiting patiently for customers to emerge from the cold.
So that is how I passed Christmas last year. Five people from five different nations, gubbing down rice and bread crumbed pork, watching the figure skating championships. We told the owner in pigeon Japanese that it was Christmas, a holiday in Western culture. Pretending to be interested he enquired politely about customs and celebrations. All I could think of was the Christmas Coca cola advert…
The holidays are coming, the holidays are coming…
The image of a tubby beardy bloke donning a scarlet suit with white trimming winking from the back of a Coca cola lorry has been the start of Christmas to me ever since I was a little girl. I love Christmas. I love watching terrible 80s films in their fuzzy glory while gobbling more turkey than I can physically handle. I love the trees bondage tied by fairy lights in Princes Street, the smell of sausages being seared on a hot plate, and vats of steaming mulled wine on a constant steamy boil in the German market.
While I was away, I didn’t miss Christmas. It is only now that I’m back here that I miss it. Even though I was here celebrating it with my family, I still missed it. But I miss Christmas before everyone grew up. Christmas this year involved me cooking the roast whilst my mother went to church. There were no children ripping open wrapping paper and running around on sugar highs. The saddest thing of all was probably the updated Coca Cola advert. They changed everything in an attempt to revitalise their advertising strategy I suppose. But Christmas relies heavily upon nostalgia. Why celebrate year after year if not to recreate the serenity experienced the years before? What I want from Christmas is to return to childhood, swaddled in the perception of rose tinted safety.
I’m not sure where I will be this time next year. But I hope next year I won’t spend my time searching for ghosts of Christmases past.
*Three times a year JR offers a special ticket called the Seishuun Juuhachi Kippu. The ticket costs about 10,000JPY and offers unlimited train travel on local trains for 5 days within a limited period of time. You don’t have to take the 5 days consecutively and you can share a ticket between a group, it’s really flexible. If you’re not in a hurry and can manage frequent train changes, this is the most economical way to get around without hitch hiking.