Christmas in Japan is a time for dating and young love. Although some families also hold a little present-giving ceremony on Christmas day, in general the focus in Japan is on dating, on Christmas eve. Christmas has no value to anyone who is not single and under 30; and for those who are, to be dateless on christmas eve is a tragedy. So it is that if you go out on christmas eve you will see huge numbers of couples engaging in “rabu rabu” (love love), and gangs of young dateless women wandering around having, essentially, anti-christmas parties.
Of course, I had a date, so the Delightful Miss E and I went to Shibuya last night to have a couples dinner at the Asian-Japanese fusion themed restaurant, Fat Buddha, followed by a visit to the new bar Rouge (pictured above), which has been set up by one of our favourite Shibuya haunts, And Dining And People (which has no internet presence at all). Fat Buddha provides a kind of themed dining experience (these are quite popular in Tokyo), based around Japanese-influenced Chinese food. So we had fresh spring rolls with raw scallop and caviar, an amazing pickled plum, baby sardine, shredded chili and perilla leaf pepperoncino pasta, and a delicious Szechuan-style “Janku hotpot” (pictured).
Christmas eve in Japan is a perfect storm of dating couples and end of year parties, in combination of course with an absence of staff – who are all off on dates. So service at this restaurant was astoundingly slow (for Japan), as the skeleton crew tried to hold it together in the face of a veritable tsunami of drunken salarymen, gangs of girls on consolatory party nights, and hordes of dating couples. I booked the day before and was given a two hour slot from 8:30 pm (this was all they had left), and not in any of their booths (Fat Buddha is famous for its secret booth rooms), and in the open area around us I could see three couples on dates, and two girls who were, presumably, dateless (or unaffected by this christmas hype). One end of year party was santa themed – at one point I watched a group of them pass me by, a santa-outfitted woman and her male friends leading another drunk woman to the bathroom. When they returned, the drunk woman was in the santa outfit and the other woman was now fully dressed in normal clothes. Figure out the point of that if you dare.
With our dinner coming to a rather over-stuffed close, the Delightful Miss E and I left the Fat Buddha and returned to street level. Here we passed hordes of stumbling drunks, all under 30, on our way to Rouge. A sizeable portion of these folk were dressed in either a) santa outfits or b) reindeer outfits. The santa outfits were almost exclusively skimpy short dresses, but the reindeer outfits varied from small horns to full body suits. In some cases we would see a couple on a date: man in perfect suit with coiffured hair, woman in skimpy santa one-piece and high heels.
Red is, of course, a colour of happiness and good luck in Japan, and santa is a fat cheerful guy in red – so basically a bit like a happy buddha. This makes him very popular, and in fact christmas cards in Japan are replete with hordes of santas up to traditional Japanese activities in the snow: drinking sake, or skiing, or sitting in a hot spring, or picking tea leaves against a snowy Mt. Fuji backdrop. The Delightful Miss E gave me a christmas card that featured a sumo bout between two santas, refereed by a santa in traditional referee’s outfit, and watched by a full house of drunken santas. Are we getting the point? So, given the chance, of course women on a date are going to find a way to toss in a santa reference.
So we pushed our way through the throng of drunken santas to Rouge, which is set in a secluded alley a little back from the main part of Shibuya, behind a street that until recently included a butler cafe staffed by foreign men. Rouge was pretty busy, but we managed to find a seat, and it was from that seat that I took the photo above. Rouge is like an undersea grotto if the sea was blood red and the grotto were full of tiny lights and a sound system playing reggae christmas carols. It is really very good, and has the same unobtrusive staffing style as its upstairs progenitor, And People. If you’re ever in Shibuya I recommend it!
From our vantage point I took the photo at the top of this post. In the background you can see four girls (one in a santa hood – another one had reindeer antlers, but you can’t see them in the picture), who spent most of the evening taking photos of each other and squealing. These girls were very friendly and sweet, and the fact that they were not on dates on a Christmas Eve is a sad indictment of the quality of modern (single) young men. What were you doing, you stupid boys? There are 17 million men in Tokyo, and somehow these four girls were dateless? Ridiculous. Men need to get their priorities straight! And I’m sure all four of them agree with me.
So that is Christmas in Japan – a fun date, good food and drink, hordes of young people having fun, and neither sight nor sound of the pope decrying materialism from his gold-plated palace. No one in Japan has forgotten the “reason for the season” because they just naturally sensed the real value of the ceremony: booze, good food and love. Which is exactly what I was doing last night (and all of today …)
And with that, a merry christmas to all …