“Those were the days” is a phrase a woman must never utter once she hits 40 as it makes her seem unnecessarily outdated. But there are times when one is called upon to bend this golden rule, and state – clearly and plainly – that those WERE the days. Hell, yes.
One is referring to the Japanese Christmas, of course. Back in the day, or the 1990s to early 2000s to be exact, Christmas was drenched in two things: sex and money. In Tokyo especially, there were shopping couples sightings as early as the last week of October (Halloween wasn’t yet huge back then), browsing the aisles of Tiffany’s and Miu-Miu, the girls sighing in ecstasy over their wish list items while their dates nodded and inwardly did some calculations as to what all this was going to cost them. A quick round-up of the salient spending points: dinner in a swank restaurant followed by a night at a hotel, where the exchange of gifts will lead to carnal delights and a morning-after confirmation that yes! this girl was indeed going to be the official girlfriend. On average, the sum total ranged between 100,000 and 150,000 yen. I know of guy after guy who went into debt, just to splurge on a woman who was likely to ditch him before Valentines Day came around, not two months later. Of course, no one mentioned or was interested in the fact that Christmas marked the celebratory birth of a baby called Jesus, who spent his first night in this world swaddled in rags and laying in a manger.
Back in the day, or the 1990s to early 2000s to be exact, Christmas was drenched in two things: sex and money.
Okay, so the Japanese were clueless about the significance of western religious. Still, the fevered anticipation of it all, the sheer, heady delight of champagne and room service and red strap sandals elaborately wrapped in gorgeous chiffon paper! But don’t think the girls rested on their arses while the men worked overtime and scrambled for cash. Women had to spend too, on hair salons and lymph drainage treatments and pedicures, not to mention the all-important issue of the Christmas dress. Take the case of my friend Rika, whose most triumphant Christmas was in 2000 when she invested in a facial, a massage and a Chanel dress but skipped the lingerie entirely and squeezed four dates into a single Christmas Eve. This by the way, worked for her and a lot of others because in Japan, the 23rd is a holiday (the Emperor’s b-day) and that’s when most people do their Christmas thing, which makes everything extra hectic. C-Eve is a regular day – everyone has to show up for work so it’s quieter and easier to get reservations and space appointments.
After 2008 however, the Christmas-scape altered perceptibly and 3.11 changed it completely. People started talking about ‘kizuna (bonding)’ and ‘kazoku (family),’ two words which have since become embedded in the collective psychology – and they sure ain’t got nothing to do with doing naughty things in hotel rooms. The Christmas season is now pretty much about corporate drinking parties called “bonenkai,’ and otherwise rushing to get work done in time to take New Year’s off – a traditional Japanese event firmly entrenched in the family (again). The only people shopping at Miu Miu these days are those who speak Chinese. Ditto for people with reservations in four star hotels. As for fancy dinners, few Japanese could afford them anymore and the ones that do are not in couples – they’re co-workers in groups of three and four and mostly of the same sex.
Have we lost our capacity for ridiculousness, our carpe diem mentality and taste for sexual pleasures? One hates to admit it, but the answer seems to lean toward a loud ‘yes.’ A big problem is the aging thing. Japan is turning gray at breakneck speed and now everyone seems to be middle-aged or older – too mature to go overboard on just about anything. The remaining younger populace is far too worried about the future and saddled with pension funds and insurance payments to splurge on girlfriends, even if they existed. Women for their part, are wary of relationships that lead nowhere and with the emergence of the “sefure (sex friend),” there’s no excuse for spending a yen more than is absolutely necessary on what is after all, a moderately fun distraction. As a 20-something boy at work told me the other day, “Sex is such a chore. I’d just rather go to bed with my phone and play games until I fall asleep.”
Call me a patriot, because I broke down in tears. What is this nation coming to?
Ah yes, those were the days. To think that 25 year old women were once called “Christmas Cake,” because the cakes on sale after Christmas Eve were past it and over-the-hill and on the brink of eternal spinsterhood. Yes, it was rampant sexism but it was a fun, harmless brand of sexism compared to the stuff our current PM likes to peddle and which by the way, has turned things real sour between the men and women of Japan. And who does any dating these days? More Japanese women are forgoing the ritual completely, to tie the knot at 35 and older (that’s IF they decide marriage is on the agenda). Against this dismal backdrop, no one is likely to wear a Chanel dress with no underwear for Christmas.
So, join me in a wistful toast for the good old days.