Christmas in Japan
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
So that's China, and now let's go to Japan where just about 1 percent of people consider themselves Christian, which does not stop them from going all out for Christmas.
Lucy Craft shares her observations in the season in Tokyo.
LUCY CRAFT: Japanese homes are so tiny. Christmas celebration often takes place in public along with enormous Christmas trees and dazzling light displays, a staple of Christmas cheers and hand-bell concerts. This one, performed by young team of bell-ringers in formal dress and white gloves, is happening in the Takashimaya shopping mall.
(Soundbite of music)
CRAFT: Unlike in the U.S., Santa Claus himself is rarely seen, and Asian Santa seems almost sacrilegious to the Japanese. But that doesn't stop just about anyone else from putting on the red suit. A local merchants association hired a marching band and some part-time students to parade through the streets carrying signs for an anti-litter campaign. The skinny Santas stepping to a Disneyland beat are an arresting sight.
(Soundbite of marching band playing "Jingle Bells")
CRAFT: Christmas in Japan is basically for two kinds of people. Young children can expect a new videogame or a book and a low-key dinner at home, probably chicken in a whipped cream and fudge(ph) confection known as Christmas cake.
But Christmas in Japan has also come to be associated with 20-something couples on dates, at the peak of their romantic and disposable income primes, which is why hotels clean up at Christmas sponsoring elaborate choir shows.
(Soundbite of choral singing)
CRAFT: Over at the upscale Isetan department stores is as if a casting call has been issued for a Japanese version of "Sex and the City."
(Soundbite of noisy crowd)
CRAFT: The jewelry counters our mobbed by young couples and couples only. Forget about Valentine's Day; it's Christmas when young males are expected to say it was flowers and Louis Vuitton.
Unidentified Man: (Speaking in Japanese)
Unidentified Woman: (Speaking in Japanese)
CRAFT: This couple says they're spending the day shopping, strolling and having a fancy dinner somewhere. They're about to split up and shop separately, exchanging their presents later. But, in at least one small detail, Japan's celebration is the same as in Duluth or Atlanta.
Unidentified Man: Merry Christmas.
Unidentified Woman: Merry Christmas.
CRAFT: For NPR News, this is Lucy Craft in Tokyo.
INSKEEP: By the way, Christmas in Japan can involve dropping some major cash. Tokyo's Mandarin Oriental Hotel is offering up some luxuries this season like vintage champagne, butler service and access to a stretch limo.
But for Christmas, the hotel advertised the holiday suite that featured a Christmas tree draped in diamond jewelry, which guests could keep. The hotel says several couples inquired and one even came in to see the rooms, but no reservations were made.