You Better Not Pout, You Better Not Cry, Because This Japanese Santa Ski Mask is Coming For You, and Other Holiday Mishaps

Despite burnt flesh and a newfound fear of Santa and his band of marauders, I haven't been this enthused about the holidays in a long time.
Publish date:
December 9, 2014
travel, holidays, Christmas, japan

Have you ever burnt your knuckle?

I burnt the shit out of mine this past weekend. Then I stabbed it. Then I fell. Happy Holidays! Let me explain.

Every morning I boil a big kettle of water to make my coffee or tea. In the past few weeks I've foolishly marveled at how I've yet to scald myself while pouring this big pot of boiling water over my teabag or into my coffee press.

Adulthood here I am! I can handle hot liquids without fear!

Such hubris.

On Thursday morning I was boiling my water, and preparing the fancy, fragrant chai tea I had just purchased at the fancy, fragrant Japanese tea store. I was so proud. I thought I could just rip into that pretty red teabag with abandon.

Rip I did, maybe with more of a flourish than is absolutely necessary. As I ripped the teabag open, the middle knuckle of the ring finger on my left hand came into contact with the boiling, just starting to scream, metal teapot, and before I could remember how to say, "SON OF A MOTHERLESS GOAT" in Japanese, my knuckle was burnt. My teapot has tasted blood. I'm doomed.

My knuckle swelled up, turned the most darling shade of purplish brown, and proceeded to blister in the coming hours.

The funny thing about knuckles is that they bend. Bending, and the cold, windy Japan weather, caused my wound to keep cracking. By Saturday my knuckle was a raw, oozing, puffy, red mess. So of course this was the perfect time to hang Christmas decorations.

After venturing out to the local discount store (where I encountered the stuff of Japanese Christmas nightmares; more on that later) I came home with my holiday bounty, ready to deck my halls and whatnot.

The high-up window in my living room/kitchen/office nook needed shiny red and green garland. It NEEDED it. Hanging chintzy, metallic garland over my workspace would make my life holly jolly and merry and bright and maybe I'd get a hippopotamus for Christmas.

So armed with my garland and thumbtacks, I climbed up on my wobbly, swivel chair (brilliant move #1), stood on my tip toes (brilliant move #2) and started to affix my holiday spirit to the window.

You're probably asking yourself now, "How does one with 33 years of practice using fingers stab oneself in the knuckle?"

I don't know. All I know is that as I held the garland in place with my left hand, and prepared to stab it in place with the thumbtack held in my right, the chair wobbled and I stabbed my knuckle with the tack.

Then I swore. Then fell. I should have used tape.

I'm fine. My knuckled swelled, throbbed, and oozed some more, but has now scabbed over. I'm healing!

Last night my husband came home to me taking a picture of my knuckle to share with all of you, but he immediately objected saying, "You can't do that to your readers! Not everyone is like you!"

I guess he's right. All pink, lumpy, and scabby it looks like Krang from the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." Consider yourself spared.

But amidst all the holiday bloodshed, the real gem in all of this was discovering the true meaning of Christmas at a Japanese discount store. It's one of those stores that carries everything from fleece outerwear to "Dr. Spice" to spooky holiday themed masks for when you want to stage a ho-ho-home invasion.

Let me be clear, this is no shade at the Japanese and how they choose to celebrate Christmas. Christmas in Japan is festive times 1,000, and it's spectacular. I love Christmas in Japan. Not so much for the "Christ" aspect but more for the atmosphere, festivities, and fried chicken.

That's right, you heard me. "KFC" and Christmas are practically synonymous in Japan. You order your "Christmas Chicken" beforehand, and finger lickin' feast on Christmas eve. Christmas isn't Christmas unless it's "Kentucky Fried."

Somewhere Kirk Cameron is crying.

Speaking of crying, let's talk Christmas costumes here. Your Uncle Luigi (yes, I have an Uncle Luigi, don't we all?) may spread holiday cheer by dressing up in a Santa costume to thrill the little ones in your family on Christmas eve, but something tells me things would go a little differently if he burst into the house wearing this:

Or this:

Or even this:

It's all in good fun, and part of me gets the playful aspect of dressing up as a Christmas character. But as Americans, I think we have too many frightening cultural connections to ski masks. As an American perusing the Japanese seasonal selection at my local mega-mart, I have to remind myself that it's okay to be a little "culture shocked," but I am not the market these items are aimed at.

I'm sure there are aspects of American Christmas that weird out the Japanese.

My friend Serina grew up in Japan with a Japanese mother and an American father. Her perspective is fascinating because while she grew up in a rather traditional region of Japan, near Kyoto, her family upheld several American traditions when it came to the holidays.

"My dad loved Christmas. My friends were always amazed by the big way we celebrated the holidays. Typically Japanese kids only get one present under their pillow for Christmas. And only until they are around 11 years old.

My friends couldn't believe that my brother and I got LOTS of presents under a Christmas tree. It's mind blowing to the Japanese how many gifts American children get. And a turkey! Getting a turkey in Japan was not easy. Cooking a turkey in your house is kind of weird for Japanese people.

Not to mention, I think Christmas is more of a 'romantic' holiday in Japan. Like Valentine's Day. It's a big deal for couples to go out to dinner on Christmas eve. It's really all about Christmas eve. Nobody cares about Christmas day."

I asked Serina what she thought was the weirdest thing about American Christmas traditions.

"Eggnog," she replied. No argument there.

I suppose one culture's eggnog is another culture's festive panda head.

And since Christmas eve is a romantic time of year, maybe that's why there's a whole aisle of sexy Christmas costumes? Hmmm.

So there's a glimpse into my first Christmas in Japan. Despite my burnt flesh and a newfound fear of Santa and his band of marauders, I haven't been this enthused about the holidays in a long time. Japan does relentlessly spread "Happy Christmas Cheery!" (saw that on a mug) so well, it's hard not to get swept up in it.