My first Christmas in Japan


I couldn’t forget my first Christmas in Japan.

I arrived there as a young student in October 1996 not knowing the language, culture or traditions. The first weeks at school were hectic, almost unbearable then a surprise field trip to Kyoto came. My very first Christmas in Japan, in the historic city of Kyoto!

The city was spectacular and Christmas-sy with beautiful trees with grand illuminations. I imagined huge fireworks at the strike of midnight because having previously lived in a country where Christmas season is big, festive and fireworks lighting up the sky at midnight on Christmas eve, I thought it was always like that everywhere. And, this is Japan.

I expected much too much.

I opened my hotel room curtain at 11:45 pm only to see the streets looking dull with only a few young couples holding hands and a man trudging across holding a sake* cup to keep him warm that cold night.

My anticipation heightened.

Snow fell on my frosty hotel window at midnight, trees rustled outside with the cold winter wind. I must be wrong. This can’t be! 12:05 am. Except for the dancing lights reflected in the snow covered ground, the place stood still. The thought quickly crept up on me: nothing happens in Japan on Christmas night!

I wasn’t ready for this! Had I known!

When the next December rolled in, I was ready with a plane ticket that would take me home to the Philippines. The bright lights just wouldn’t suffice.


This post has been entered into the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.

*sake is Japanese traditional rice wine. They can be bought in disposable glass cups in convenient stores all over Japan. Popular during winter.

Wasshoi! Wasshoi! To the festival we go!

omikoshi japan

“She’s in!”

My father in-law rushed through the sliding door, to the corridor leading to the low lying Japanese table where we were. The creaking sound of the 50 year old wooden floor followed his every step. “Akari will be in the omikoshi parade!”

An omikoshi is a portable Shinto shrine carried around the neighborhood in a spirit of excitement and revelry. However this was a small town and the omikoshi is carried by children (pre-selected by drawing lots). Believing that children who are inside the decorated cart would be blessed with good health the whole year through, my in-laws prayed that their only grandchild be selected as we only visit Japan once a year now. We have left when she was barely three and now at nearly seven, it seems that everything Japan related is only but a faint memory to her. She even forgot most of the language already.

I was worried. How will she interact with the local children? Will she even understand or enjoy the event?

The children carrying the omikoshi regularly stopped to dance merrily, tossing the omikoshi up and down, timed at the beat of a taiko (Japanese drum) and whistles of the children. 

I underestimated my daughter. She was a natural. In her blazing red festival coat, she had the biggest smile, the loudest whistle and the biggest voice chanting, “Wasshoi! Wasshoi!”

She embraced Japan and everything about it as if we never left at all.


This post has been entered into the Grantourismo and HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition. (The theme for July is Local Festival)