As I was sitting in a café this week, barely able to think for the deafening Christmas carols and attempting to work my way through a festive apple cider so thick with orange pulp and fresh cranberries that it required a spoon to even find the drink, it struck me that Christmas seems to have come earlier than ever in Tokyo. In our building, Omotesando Hills, Christmas officially started on 1 November. The Halloween pumpkins had barely come down when the Christmas decorations appeared. And they are lavish.
The theme this year is Christmas for Lovers. The lovers in question are Mickey and Minnie Mouse. There’s a sparkly scene outside the front entrance with silhouettes of the happy twosome, all set up for passers by to pose for Christmas snaps. Inside there’s a 10-metre Disney tree with 25,000 Swarovski crystals and a light show every 15 minutes. For a city that has very few churches and no religious link to Christmas, Tokyo does the season in style. Shops are exquisitely decorated and special Christmas product fills the shelves. The illuminations are already blazing in every shopping district and retail complex from Marunouchi to Roppongi.
Earlier this week I received an email from Muji announcing its own inspired idea for Christmas: rented Christmas trees. Here, I thought, was finally a solution for those of us who would rather not celebrate Christmas with six feet of tinsel-covered plastic. The environmental ethics of buying a felled fir aside, a real tree costs a small fortune in Japan.
It couldn’t be easier. You go to one of the Muji’s central Tokyo stores and put in your order. Muji delivers the tree and then collects it at the end. Perfect. None of that bothersome disposal of a real tree which here generally involves a ridiculously dangerous saw and a morning’s hard graft to get the tree into sufficiently small pieces to allow it to qualify as burnable rubbish. The tree is even transported back to Gunma and replanted in a campsite. At ¥10,000 (€94) it’s not cheap but it’s worth it, I thought; where do I sign up?
And then I looked at the small print. The tree arrives in the first week of December – far too early in my book – and is removed on Boxing Day when the festivities are still in full swing. I tried to ask about an extension and mentioned the tradition of keeping a tree until Twelfth Night but rules are rules. And so I was reminded that one of the most festive cities in the world is lacking in one thing – and that’s a Christmas holiday.
Christmas Day is a working day like any other. I started looking at other Christmas activities and realised that Christmas in Tokyo apparently ends on 25 December. Decorations everywhere from Omotesando Hills to Tokyo Midtown all come down on Christmas Day. And then it’s on to the next thing – which is, of course, Japan’s traditional year-end holiday: New Year.