We’re fast approaching Christmas, and I’m pretty sure UEA breaks up tomorrow – I’ve still got another week here though, ending on the 22nd December and resuming from the 6th January. Not as brilliant as the one month off for Christmas that I got used to.
Vegan naan infused with a Japanese veggie (forgot the name…)
The break we’re given here is (for obvious reasons) less to do with adhering to Christian tradition and more to do with letting students go home and spend time with family and friends, preparing for new year’s celebrations before term continues where it left off. My proper break starts late January and ends early April – lots of amazing things planned for then, including a birthday trip to Okinawa!
They refer to end of year parties here as 忘年会, Bounenkai, or if I were to translate poetically “A party to forget the year past.” I suppose It’s only the 14th of December, and not the time to be talking about ending off the year and Christmas and so on (exciting things are definitely coming for me), but just recently Waseda treated us living at the Hoshien Dorms to a little Christmas gathering – so I can’t help but be impatient about finishing class. Only 8 days to go…
On Friday (8th December), I was meant to go to Joan Cornellà’s art exhibition in Shinagawa. It was obviously not meant to be, as not only did we take the wrong train, but it started raining just a few minutes after I left – and now that it’s gotten as cold as it has, rain was the last thing I wanted to deal with. We returned to the dorms after around 30 minutes of walking and rescheduled for Sunday.
Which means I’ll start this blog post with maybe one of the most “Japanese” experiences I’ve had here so far.
Looking back I wish I had more
A Christmas party? That starts at 4:30pm and ends at 9pm? In my mind I couldn’t help but picture loads of food and mulled wine, so of course I got down there as soon as possible in my Santa hat. The entire room was decked out in tinsel, a cute little Christmas tree was placed on the table, and there were a ridiculous amount of cakes laid out – so naturally I ate as many as I could muster (four) and activated the “I’m vegetarian for today” switch that I can’t help but keep flipping while I’ve been here.
A British Health and Safety risk
I suppose the cakes were a kind of trap to lead us into the church that Hoshien is based next to, and as I soon as I stepped in I remembered those times at high school when every single Christmas, we’d go to the local church and sing songs for like, 3 hours, while everyone counted down the minutes until we’d actually get to leave. Luckily, this was a pretty short church service – we all had our own little candles that we lit, had a quiet moment with the candles “to think about anything you want”, sung Silent Night, Holy Night in Japanese, listened to the church choir sing, and then had our student entertainment (in which Dennis played his part, of course.)
One particular song Dennis wanted to sing wasn’t exactly appropriate for Church, so he skipped it over. Just out of respect for the atmosphere of a Church or any religious place, even if you’re not religious, you try your best to be as “proper” as possible, right?
So after the entertainment was over, a few Japanese students came to perform a play for us. Before we entered the Church, we were given a booklet that described the basic plot, and this is it copied word for word:
“On a Christmas Eve, Jesus came to 3 sisters and a brother to tell Santa was kidnapped by demons. They arrived at a demons’ castle to save Santa, but can they really defeat these powerful demons? In the end, unbelievable truth has been prevailed: an accomplice of kidnapping Santa was…”
So when we walked into Church and actually read that description, everybody found it hilarious. Even with that description of the play in mind, I thought it would just be a nice little production that we’d awkwardly laugh at every so often while actually wanting to return to the common room to eat some more.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, because it was genuinely one of the best things I’ve ever seen.
Jesus, chugging beer in a church under a cross, in a bed sheet
The whole play was performed in Japanese, apart from one line from one of the main characters in which she walked to the front of the stage and shouted “I WANT A HOT BOYFRIEND.” I don’t even think it had context. The four siblings were fishermen (I think), who were approached by one of Santa’s reindeer, who asks them to save Santa. Then Jesus comes out of nowhere, drinking a can of beer, and says “I partied a bit too much in Heaven last night, so I can’t go and save Santa.” He gets out his phone and makes a joke about turning water into wine, and as he walks off stage knocks over a stage prop.
(We later found out the actor was super drunk, as Jesus was found vomiting in the common room toilets during the after party.)
Main attraction #2
The four main characters go to the demons’ castle and battle against a cat demon, a demon who loves to dance (who becomes the ‘hot boyfriend’ of the aforementioned actor), and just a generic demon. However, for the final demon, Jesus appears again with a massive sword and they whack the demon to death with it. Of course, the plot twist is that the reindeer we saw earlier was an accomplice to Santa’s kidnapping – so naturally, they kill her with the massive sword too.
Putting that play into words is difficult because I can’t replicate the feeling of “what is actually going on” that I felt as I watched it all go down, but I couldn’t help but think that Dennis would’ve been absolutely fine singing whatever song we deemed not really appropriate for Church. (I also found out later that the whole plot was created just because the Santa costume bought for the actor was already damaged.)
The night ended in a super Christmassy way: with huge amounts of Domino’s pizza, cookies, and table tennis at a local bar.
So Sunday ended up being Joan Cornellà day – he’s a Spanish artist whose work is pretty recognisable and made the rounds on Facebook a few times, so chances will be that if you’re reading this you’ll recognise his art style. It was a small exhibition of his work, but as someone who loves checking out this kind of stuff I found it was worth it.
Following Joan Cornellà though, we made our way over to Rainbow Bridge – think a really colourful version of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. I couldn’t get very many nice pictures of the Bridge due to the darkness, but the pictures I took walking on the bridge turned out lovely. When walking on the Rainbow Bridge, you have a choice between the South route and the North route – the South route looks out into the ocean (the one I took), and the North looks into Tokyo, giving you a good view of Tokyo Tower and other beautiful high-rise buildings. (Tutorial for how to access the pedestrian paths on Rainbow Bridge found here).
Walking the bridge takes you into the artificial island of Odaiba – and I couldn’t help but feel totally out of place as we stood there in the sand in 6pm Winter darkness, with the weather having suddenly become as awful as it has. Sitting here writing this, I have my air conditioning turned to 30C – It’s STILL cold. It’s only meant to become worse as we reach January and February – bear in mind February is when I’m going travelling to a bunch of places – so I can’t help but keep my fingers crossed that the temperature doesn’t drop to like -10C.
In a few hours, I’m meant to go have my first Onsen (public hot bath), and tomorrow I’ll be seeing the new Star Wars. As it’s getting colder and colder, I’ve become very reluctant to make massive plans to go here-and-there-everywhere – but I might go visit the Imperial Palace gardens this weekend. I feel like because Sunday is currently my only actual day off, I have to make the most of it. Very soon I’ll be able to relax and forget about my work for two weeks, but until then, I’ll just have to keep trying hard and continue drinking stupid amounts of hot chocolate…