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Christmas

Aaaaaaaand that was Christmas.

Did you miss me? Probably not as you were all too busy enjoying yourselves over the festive season. Well alas its back to work time now but hopefully we’re all energised from the festive break, recovered from our hangovers and ready to get back to work and back to blogging.

But first I’m going to update you all on what I did during the holidays. It’s mostly dull with a few bits of interest buried within but you have to suffer through the whole thing.

Schools are pretty free with giving holidays around this time of year due to the combination of school breaks and a lot of national holidays in a row. Because of this it only takes a few Nenkyuu (paid leave days) to manage to get a couple of weeks off work. Most JET’s use this time to go on a proper holiday and travel around Asia a bit. As I’m trying to save money for when my missus gets here so I can travel with her I elected to stay at home and see if any of the JET’s left in Kobe were up to anything.

As it happens nobody had any real plans at all and in desperation I decided to offer to throw a party myself.

And with that decision any hopes of saving money this winter were thrown out the window and I learned I am a fucking idiot (sarcastic comments about “it took you this long” should be directed elsewhere).

Christmas parties, for those not in the know, are expensive.

Irregardless I had an absolutely brilliant time spending that money. For the first few weekends in December and during the first few holidays I spent every free moment scouring Kobe for all the foods you need to throw a Christmas dinner; sprouts, Turkey, Gravy, Quality Street, etc, etc.

My efforts were largely futile as the vast majority of British festive food is simply unheard of over here. In fact judging from the contents of most of the foreign food shops I went to Britain’s contributions to global gastronomic culture seem limited to cadbury’s chocolate, ribena, some beers, black pudding and stilton. Most missed of everything I was searching for was Christmas pudding and mince pies. Especially mince pies, this year marks the first since I was an infant that I haven’t had a mince pie, I feel slightly cheated.

Incidentally Fran indicated to me far too late a source of mince pies in Osaka so next year I’m set.

Failure’s aside all this foreign food shop trawling (and let me tell you, it is so weird to have to go to a foreign food shop to find something you recognise. It’s not that I’m surprised seeing ribena it’s that I’m surprised to see it lumped in with some mango lassi as a generic foreign item despite one being British and the other Indian) was a brilliant excuse to splurge on all the stuff I miss from home that I normally can’t justify the expense of. I entirely sated my month long craving for cheese and even found some Sam Smiths Taddy Porter! Sam Smiths is a brewer from my home town, well nearly.

Completely without a trace were Christmas crackers, mince pies, Quality Street, Christmas pudding, any kind of Christmas themed table mats, water biscuits, pickled red cabbage and stuffing. However every time I found something on my list did make me genuinely happy.

One thing I was struggling with was what exactly the main course was going to be. Most people in Japan (me included) don’t have an oven, just gas hobs and a grill so even if I found a Turkey there was no way of cooking it. One plan I had in mind was to get a chicken from KFC. KFC in Japan have a limited amount of roast chickens that you can pre-order from them and collect on Christmas day. Unfortunately by the time I found out about this all the chickens were sold out. I went to every KFC I could think of in Kobe looking for one that still had chickens and Ryan was frantically ringing shops but there was not a chicken to be found.

So we had Pork Tenderloin instead.

The final menu was

Starter
Prawns fried in cream cheese and paprika with spring onions
Veggies got a salad of winter leaves, cherry tomatoes, green beans, avocado and home made dressing

2nd course
Steamed crab with lemon butter.

(Since winter started the supermarket has had crabs legs in every day and I adore crabs legs. Unfortunately they’re too expensive to buy just for me to eat so this was an excuse to finally eat some. They were delicious.)

Main course
Pork Tenderloin marinated in mead and grilled with apple
Apple and mead gravy
Mashed potatoes
Sautéed potatoes
Carrots
Sautéed carrots
Mange tout
Home made chipolatas
Home made sage and onion stuffing

Veggies got nut roast and a vegetarian gravy instead of the pork.

Pudding
Christmas pudding
Chocolate cake
Traditional Japanese Christmas cake

The traditional Japanese Christmas cake is a weird thing, mostly because Japan has no tradition of Christmas. It consists of an ordinary sponge topped with cream and strawberries. In the best Japanese culinary tradition it is stunningly and elaborately decorated and is a virtual work of art but it’s flavour is a secondary consideration and is merely okay.

And can I just say once more how weird it is that Japanese people eat Strawberries in winter.

Then I had cheese and crackers and smoked salmon.

Terry’s Chocolate Orange Segments (best stand in for celebrations/miniature heroes/quality street)

Plus I picked up some beers and a couple of boxes of wine.

Come the actual day, nothing went quite to plan.

My day started out brilliantly, I got up, cleaned a bit, spoke to everyone at home and had a leisurely breakfast. I went out to go get Ryan to help me prepare and no sooner did I step out the door than a box arrived with my Christmas presents.

I got some books and comics, most of which have already been read and some DVD’s of British comedy shows and stand-up comedians. My British friends are all very jealous of my Big Train DVD and my nerdy mates are all impressed by my complete Nemesis the Warlock volumes which are some truly excellent comics.

I also got some Harrods tea (which is delicious) and a Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. So thanks Mum and Dad.

Then it all started to go wrong.

Because 2 hobs and a grill is not sufficient to cook for 8 people I was counting on Ryan lending me his cooker to double my cooking capacity. Come the day neither of us could work out how to detach the cooker from the gas so we felt it best to leave it alone severely curtailing my cooking abilities. He did let me borrow his microwave so that helped.
The second problem was late arrivals. I told everyone to arrive between 3 and 4 but Jason and James didn’t arrive until 7. So I didn’t start cooking the starters until 4 o’clock and thus delayed eating further.

Third problem was me underestimating cooking times so while the first and second courses were quite timely the main course wasn’t on the table till nearly an hour afterwards.

Fourth problem was trying to keep everything warm with only 2 hobs, a job I dismally failed in but that didn’t matter so much because we had a microwave and very hot gravy.

Fifth problem was my attempt to make vegetarian gravy, about which the less said the better.

Nonetheless the meal went down okay. Everybody professed happiness with it and ate what they were given. Jool’s girlfriend Ayumi even claimed to like the vegetarian gravy (she must have been lying). The pork tenderloin wasn’t especially tasty but was unbelievably tender and juicy and the gravy was delicious.
Jools brought some games and such, James and Jason arrived in time for pudding (the Christmas Pudding was gorgeous and a big hit and all the desserts were devoured) and having drunk, and talked and drunk some more, sung Fairy Tale of New York about 4 times in a row and watched the Father Ted Christmas Special everybody went home and I tried to watch one of my new comedy DVD’s and passed out on the couch.

Bliss.

Being in Japan during Christmas time, in fact just not being at home at Christmas time is a decidedly disconcerting experience. It clearly is Christmas, there are trees and lights up, there are santa displays in all the shop windows and there are Christmas songs playing in every shop you walk into. Yet it doesn’t feel like Christmas, it’s all a little bit off-kilter and slightly wrong. For example none of the Christmas songs sound right, instead of Slade, Band Aid and Wizzard most shops seem to be playing some techno/girl band version of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or muzak versions of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. There are ads up for gift ideas but there’s also the nagging feeling that most people aren’t bothering to buy a gift. Then there are the simply utterly bizarre things, such as the vast swathe of sexy Mrs clause costumes on display in Tokyu Hands (mental note made for when my missus arrives), including Christmas versions of power ranger uniforms spliced with santa outfits or reindeer outfits. That one just escapes me, power rangers + reindeer = what possible occasion are you going to wear these for?! Fortunately I stopped trying to understand anything that happens in this country a long time ago.

All the days following were spent in a well fed/drunken haze as I slept lots, enjoyed my Christmas presents, ate and drank lots of left overs (one whole pork loin had not been touched due to J and J arriving late) and saw enough of Jools, Ryan and Patrick to get fully sick of their faces.

New Years in Japan fulfils many of the roles Christmas does in the West. It’s a celebration for families to get together, eat a huge dinner and play games. It’s also the big card giving event and the time of year when most businesses shut.

Not having a Japanese family to spend time with (next year my hints will have to be much bigger) I elected to do a Western style New Year and get rat-arsed.

Fortunately because most businesses shut down a friend of a friend’s wife’s mother’s bar was not in use!

Sorry, try again. My mate Jools knows a guy called Rob, Rob’s mother in law owns a bar and no one was using it so Rob was given the keys so we all got to take it over and do free karaoke all night.
It was fantastic!

The bar itself was incredibly posh, no taps just bottles and most of the bottles were of very expensive cognac and brandy. The décor was very up-market and we were loose in it like naughty school children on a dare.

Unfortunately no pervert mode on karaoke this time. Although whenever anybody did an anime theme song the title sequence of the anime usually played on the monitor. Actually I should probably explain. Unlike theme tunes in the U.K. a big part of the Japanese chart isn’t composed of bands but of the theme tunes to popular animes. This isn’t quite as odd as that makes it sound. There’s a huge crossover between proper bands and theme bands so that sometimes established artists will do the theme for an anime, such as Gackt doing a Mobile Suit Gundam theme. Also most anime themes aren’t that different from J-Pop (also known as howling satan beast pop and distinct from the not at all bad j-punk and absolutely hilarious j-rock) so it wouldn’t be as incongruous as say the Big Break theme tune going to no.1. And admit it, if they had the Only Fools and Horses theme on karaoke you’d sing it.

The best part of anime themes as a westerner by the way is the random English used without rhyme or reason. So I can sit there in blissful ignorance as my mate Ryan goes “SHINING FINGER! Duh be doo (lots of random Japanese I don’t understand) I GET A CHANCE!”

My favourite example of this is still “I wanna rocks, rocks to the chest” from Naruto.

And that, other than veeeeeeeeeeeeeeery nearly being arrested and a trip to a brilliant temple is pretty much all I did for Christmas.

Photos and news on that near arrest on Thursday.

And calm down Mum I’m only joking.

Well partly….well wait till Thursday.

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