Like all fat, white, men, Santa started acting badly once he got to Japan
My 5-year old son won’t go into the department store nearby. I don’t blame him. Just inside the entrance, holding the sliding doors open with his freakish jig, is a dancing Santa that stands a good 6 foot 3 inches. It’s not merely the size that intimidates. It’s the glacial stare that hangs above the twisted smile. It’s the threatening perpetuity of his gyrating hips, thrusting with athletic abandon while the leering head stays stock-still. Nothing about him says joy to the world. Anywhere else and he’d be listed as a sex offender.
It got me thinking, and I can honestly say I’ve never seen a Japan-based Santa pooled in a wholesome light. Even the local guy who turns up once a year at the kids’ kindergarten is asked to stay in the playground, for fear that he might alarm the inmates. Granted, he’s a bald Maori fellow, nearly 2 meters in height, built like a yokozuna, but I can generally dig why Japanese kids are given to screaming when fat, rosy-cheeked foreigners dressed in oversized babygrows heave into site. It’s a fairly disturbing vision, after-all. Besides, when you consider the places he’s seen most frequently in this country, it seems odd that anyone would ever mistake him for a symbol of familial goodwill. Even Japanese adults have been known to get confused.
The oldest and most celebrated Santa-in-Japan story concerns a Ginza department store, a crucifix, and a defeated effigy of the man himself. Urban legend has it that, in the years following the American occupation, a flummoxed store manager took it upon himself to try and internationalize his shopfront display and – confusing the 2 most visible figures in his limited knowledge of Christianity – crucified the wrong man. Various pictures exist on the Net, though – like the tale itself – most of them appear to have been Photoshopped into fitting the necessary context. Innumerable accounts take place in cities up and down the archipelago, and can be dated anywhere between the early ‘30s and the early ‘90s. On occasion, it appears to be a vaguely xenophobic reaction to Japan’s financial might during the bubble years (“They crucified Christmas, for Chrissakes!”) Elsewhere, it’s the Yuletide equivalent to the bumbling Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Like all good myths, there’s really no getting at the truth, and – like its subject – it gets more and more bloated by the year.
Santa the Perv
There can be little doubt that Japan’s take on Little Saint Nick has something of the sex pest about him. I’m going to take it as given that it’s not just me who has noticed that. You’ll have seen the amount of scantly-clad Santa’s elves that pop up in shopping malls around the country at this time of year, each of them handing out a convenient pack of tissues. As a gaijin of some 10-years experience, I can confirm that it has become difficult not to see that red costume, with its long leather boots and fearsome belt, and not relate it to some kind of kinky cosplay. Imagine if you grew up with that around you. The mental connections would be welded from puberty.
Of course, if getting it on with the big guy is your bag of seasonal nuts, then this is probably the only country that offers legal opportunities. The Club Chapel chain of love hotels seems to have cornered the market for festive nooky, with a “Hotel Chapel Christmas” establishment in every other prefecture across the nation. Most are adorned with statuettes of Papa Noel in various states of excitement. The discerning pervert can choose to get raunchy in an Xmas-themed S&M grotto, or tuck his cute little girlie up in an elf’s bed (situated in what looks for all the world like a pre-pubescent’s bedroom – it’s a sick world, people). Kumamoto, Fukuoka, Kanazawa, Osaka – they’ve all got one, so you won’t have trouble getting your fix should you need to cross any state lines in a hurry.
Finger Licking Good
Added to the confusion is the Santa effigy made popular by KFC. Admittedly, he has other purposes in life, spending the majority of the year as plain old Colonel Sanders. But once that suit is on, with the outstretched carny hands and goatee, he takes on an all-too pedophiliac air, and I find myself tempted to cover him up with something – maybe a police cell. Back in gaikoku, he’d be cited as obscene, and probably wouldn’t make it much further than the designer’s frontal lobe. In Japan, he fits the Santa image perfectly (the Michael Jackson image, too; both, after all, are fictional characters.)
Considering this racy reputation, it’s not surprising that the children are fighting back. On a recent trip to Nagasaki – a town that publicly prays for peace and understanding – I saw a preschool girl wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with Santa’s jolly visage. As she walked past, I noticed some writing on her back. Written in a snowy, festive font was the legend, F*** the fat man in the beard!!
“Hey!” thought I, shocked and indignant. “The beard is no place to be engaging a fat man!”
Santa’s Pet Peeves About Visiting Japan
12: Recalculating the moral standard for “naughty and nice”
11. The logistic nightmare of fulfilling the wishes for over 120 million
Love Hotel reservations on Christmas Eve.
10. Where the hell is Gifu?
9. No room for all the bribes he receives from politicians in his bag.
8. Mrs. Claus is always bitching about the obligatory kick-backs.
7. Controlling the middle-aged, neglected housewives who line up
to sit on his lap.
6. Everywhere you look: Spit, piss, puke.
5. You can only eat so much KFC
4. Given the ratio of perverted Salarymen to schoolgirls, he has to start filling orders for soiled underwear way the hell back in March.
3. English Teachers.
2. Natto gives Blitzen gas in his fourth stomach.
1. Has to lock up his sleigh all the time so that bosozoku don’t
jump start Rudolph at every stop.