An Iwakuni Christmas

This year in Japan has afforded me all sorts of opportunities to get into the Christmas spirit. This is the third December that I will have spent in Japan (although this year, I’ll be in the US for Christmas), and it’s been the most festive of the three. I think the reasons for that are this are that I’m more adjusted to Japan now than before, I found a great church, and I’ve been able to make good friends through the JET Program.

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I wear this Santa hat pretty much everywhere during December. I’m holding my phone because that’s what I used for my musical instrument…

My first chance to celebrate came on December 1, when our church had a “decorate the church for Christmas” day. I was so happy to participate in making the church look nice for Christmas, because the big Christmas tree you can see from the window was what made me see Rock Point and be curious about it in the first place, before I’d ever visited. It’s so strange to think that last year I was seeing this tree from the outside as I passed by in a car, and this year I’m inside decorating it for other people to see.

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Decorating the church for Christmas!

After we decorated, I was invited to the house of one of the families at our church to have a Christmas get-together, and ate lots of meat and heavy-duty American sweets :) My church is off-base, but a lot of the people who attend are from the Iwakuni US Marine Base (MCAS Iwakuni). Many of the marines live in the barracks on base; some families live in houses on base; and some couples and families live in Japanese houses off-base. I think there are certain houses that are regularly rented to base people, that get handed off from one family to the next as marines come and go (kind of like how ALT apartments get passed from coming ALT to leaving ALT).

Our get-together was held at a house off-base. It’s always so interesting visiting the houses of American families living in Japan, because the house is Japanese, but the way it’s lived in is American. (I’m basing my observations on the three houses of friends that I’ve visited so far.) When you come in, you still take off your shoes at the entrance (not by choice, like on a house-to-house basis, but as a rule, because you always remove your shoes in a Japanese house). All the belongings of the house are a combination of things bought in Japan and things bought on base (meaning, things that are 100% “American,” like Cheetos). My impression is that there are bigger tables, and bigger cups to drink out of (haha). The interior of the bedrooms are very Japanese-looking (with tatami mats on the floor, for example), but instead of sleeping on fold-out futons, all three houses I’ve seen have had beds. (My apartment is like a bed-futon.)

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A legit Christmas tree at the house where we had our get-together, with Christmas presents wrapped and waiting underneath.

There are also bigger, and more, Christmas decorations, because you can buy big Christmas trees and things you would not normally be able to get in Japan, on base. All the warm feelings you feel when you think of Christmas (hopefully, haha), I felt at that house. I would’ve stayed later to watch the Polar Express, too, but…lesson planning.

Then, of course, there was the Hiroshima illumination, which I visited before.

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The lights in a castle display in Hiroshima.

Then, just this weekend, a small group of JETs got together to have a Christmas celebration in Iwakuni. My friend had a cute polka-dotted table cover that we could draw on with markers, and we ate while listening to Christmas music from her laptop. Do you like our combination of chopsticks and forks?

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Our Christmas menu consisted of a salad, garlic mashed potatoes and kimchi mashed potatoes (which were good!), a mince pie, and rice cooker banana bread (that was mine). After our meal, we were trying to choose the most Christmas-y movie we could out of our choices, and we came up with the first Harry Potter, because Harry Potter movies usually have a Christmas scene (we thought). As it turns out, the Christmas scenes were really short, and Harry Potter’s first Christmas turns melancholy right away when he gets a present with a note saying something like, “Your parents would have wanted you to have this.” We were joking throughout the movie about just how un-Christmas-y it was. And what do you know, it’s on YouTube! All 3 minutes of it.

The next morning, we brought out sheet music and lyrics sheets. J can play the flute and A can play the viola, S used a couple of taiko drum sticks, and I downloaded an app on my phone (called “Jingle,” it’s free!) to make jingle bells sounds, and together we sang Christmas carols!

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Christmas caroling, ALT-style.

It wasn’t a big party, but we had the perfect amount of food for everyone. I believe we captured the spirit of Christmas quite well in our time together.

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By the Iwakuni Station Christmas tree!

After a Christmastime meal at Mike’s Tex Mex for lunch (and there were Christmas decorations!), our Christmas festivities came to an end. It has been my best Japanese Christmas so far.

Song of the Day: Michael W. Smith, “O, Christmas Tree”. This is the Christmas carol that turned out the best when we sang it, so we sang it again!

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