I wasn't sure how it would feel to be away for the holidays this year. It's hard to believe I have been here for over a month already, and by now Christmas has already passed! My mom left early on Christmas Eve to make it back for Christmas with my dad since their 3 kids are currently spread out on 3 different continents...I keep telling them we take after our mom. My mom and I got our share of eating in. These are a few of the many plates I ate at a buffet one night.
A little info on Christmas in Japan: just as Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving without turkey and cranberry sauce, Christmas is not Christmas here without chicken and cake. I don't know why it's those two things. It used to be roasted chicken and a pretty vanilla sponge cake with whipped cream and strawberries inside, but it has branched out to special Christmas menus at KFC and other Japanese fast food chains, and very fancy cakes in all forms with Santa and reindeer decorations on top. I thought the KFC thing was a little strange because of the high quality food here, but I talked to a Japanese girl from church who said her family tradition is to go to KFC and get the Christmas chicken set to take home and eat. Also, Christmas Eve is celebrated more than Christmas Day. Most people spend time with friends and go on dates, not a stay-at-home-with-family kind of celebration. It is commercialized, taking advantage of Japanese people's draw to limited, seasonal items year round. I must admit, I have encouraged it with my share of snowmen shaped strawberry bread, Santa custard bread and cakes. The Christmas goods are a work of perfect craftsmanship, it's incredible! Christmas Eve was a national holiday because the day before, on a weekend, was the emperor's birthday. I just found out the Friday before that we didn't have work on Monday...good thing, I was about to go to work! Christmas day wasn't a holiday, but January 1-3 is off for New Year's. For my company (and some others but not all), we get all of next week off!
An example of commercialized Christmas, and "the best baguette in Tokyo" (with a bakery on every corner that means a lot here!) at Viron Bakery. I had to take my mom, my fellow fresh baked bread-lover.
I was trying to decide when to go to Nagasaki for my research trip but I think I will stay here because my grandma's nursing home move-in day is set. I'm really grateful that my mom will come then just for 3 days to help my grandma move and do all the paperwork that I wouldn't know what to do with. Despite all her work this past week, realistically I need to do some serious packing to get her stuff together while I don't have work next week. God's timing is always perfect! It would be pretty tough to do it only after work when I get home at 7.
Now about my Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I went to lunch with the usual group of church ladies to a place that is known for food from Tosa. It is where my grandma's family is originally from before they came to Tokyo. It's famous for "katsuo no tataki" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tataki)
I went to the Christmas Eve service, and then to my grandma's for the evening. I took her some gifts like flowers, a variety of cough drops (she goes through bags of them so quickly but can't go shopping for them!), a fluffy shoulder shawl, dinner (including yuba wrapped shrimp spring roll...yuba=tofu skin, and she loves shrimp) and dessert (her favorite: custard cream puff, and green tea chocolate cake for me).
Ok fine, maybe more than just cake for dessert... Daifuku, Milk Tea Custard Bread, then I baked persimmon bread, and ate my mom's Christmas Stollen (not photographed).
She was really happy to spend the evening with me and for the presents since she hasn't spent Christmas with anyone for a while now. We even sang Christmas songs for about 45 minutes, with my embarrassing piano accompaniment. (I haven't played piano since middle school!) Her long term memory is amazing, she can still sing a song in Chinese she learned in elementary school. I've been turned down by her about twice a week since my brother left (who somehow gives her a magical energy boost, I wish I had that effect too) to take her out to dinner, but finally coaxed her into going with me the next day for Christmas.
Christmas day wasn't the usual [roll out of bed close to noon, eat my mom's 7+ variety of Christmas breads, stay in pajamas til late afternoon, eat cookies, open presents, eat a Christmas feast]. I woke up at 6:50am, got ready for work, and took an aptitude test consisting only of speed addition for an hour. That was awful. Merry Christmas! But the rest of the work day was normal, more meetings and research, then I rushed to my grandma's and took her out to a restaurant on the 13th floor of a department store. She loves places with nice views and good food. Who doesn't haha...well I may be an exception because I equally enjoy questionable places in basements (see curry post). She kept saying, "oh I don't know if I should go... maybe I can't do it... maybe I should just stay home" even though she had her skirt and jacket laid out, dentures in, hair combed. I got her clothes out, matching green purse and cane, lots of layers, wheelchair set, insisted we go, and told her she could sleep all day the next day if she got too tired tonight. She had a really good time and ate more than I've seen her eat in a long time. The owner was really kind and gave us some of the desserts that were sold at the front of the restaurant for free to take home!
I've done so many dumb things, shrugged, and said "you live and you learn" to myself more times than I can attempt to recall. The extra sweet reader will think, "oh, little Ema" while the more common reaction may be "man she's dumb" but I have no shame so here are some examples:
1) Get extra 100 yen coins in case 60 minutes isn't enough for the dryer, to avoid a long row of damp socks laid out on top of every empty surface in my room except for the floor.
2) Turn the heater off before doing Insanity (exercise DVD).
3) The train transfer planners already figured it out...the train will not come any faster just because I speed walk/almost run to the next platform. I might as well go at the same normal fast pace as others.
4) Check the adjacent station exit number for a store in the station to return to pick up hemmed pants when the station is the busiest transport hub in the world with "well over 200 exits." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinjuku_Station)...ugh.
5) Less than 6 hours of sleep+commute=back pain.
Here are my church lady lunch friends, and little Christmas and move-in apartment gifts from them. One of them made the wreath! The move-in gift included the cutest kitchen tools, and a pliable cutting board. Don't ask about my cutting methods before this...they may have included a metal pot, my hand, a plastic bag...but perhaps not.
Even though I'm given Japanese sweets, beautiful cakes, Christmas cookies, chocolate, Hokkaido smoked salmon with cream cheese and bagels, and Nagasaki tangerines at work almost daily, I think it has balanced out with the walking, vegetable+tofu soup dinners, and occasional running/Insanity DVD...but who knows, I'm wearing a minimum of 4 layers every day so I could be packing on the pounds for all I know :)
Besides walking miles every day, here's why Japanese people stay thin and live long: literally EVERYWHERE. There are some elevators available these days, but it would take more effort to walk the distance to get to one than to suck it up and take the stairs. 1st photo: to exit a station...obviously implies stairs to enter. 2nd photo: to cross a street
This year my holiday season was very different than previous years, and I think the bigger Japanese holiday season is coming up next week so we will see how that goes! I am more grateful now for things like family and warmth, but God has provided for me with church family here. I love how age makes no difference, because our minds are alike, just as Paul writes:
"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and in one mind." Philippians 2:1-2
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
In my mind I knew what the Bible said about God providing for our needs, but I was anxious still about if I really would sense it or if I would feel secluded and alone away from the comfort of home and friends. I still miss them a lot, but God has been faithful to provide comfort, encouragement, and love through people here.
"The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him. The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him...for the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men." Lamentations 3:22-25, 31-33