Tuesday, December 18, 2012

'Zat you, Santa Claus?

Poor Makoto has Santa confusion.

It's my fault.

Yes, that IS me, your Author
You see... I am Santa Claus.

I don't mean in the father who buys the gifts and does the stocking stuffing kind of way, I mean in the I have the suit and wear it each year kind of way. I wrote something on it last year that I'll re-post here as to the how and why:
One of the 'perks' of being a Western foreign man in Japan is around Christmas someone will ask you to play Santa Claus. While there are Japanese Santa-san, a lot of Japanese children, and adults, tend to believe that the authentic Santas are White and speak English.

Usually, it's a few hours in a suit of dubious quality that will earn you a couple thousand, maybe even 10,000 or so, yen. Pocket money for whatever your pleasure is for the Christmas season. About 5 years ago, in what was probably a comment on my expanding waistline, my wife bought and sent me a beautiful deluxe Santa suit from the US. She had been joking about getting me involved in this whole deal and used my retort that there wasn't a suit that was nice enough, or big enough, in Japan for me as an excuse to actually buy one.

I've spent every Christmas season since then in that suit, adding things like a wig and beard set, proper boots, and a new belt every so often. It's not comfortable work. The suit is hot, very hot. With fake fur, not felt, the only time I am not hot is standing outside in a blizzard. The wig and cap is even worse and the beard, oh Lord. It's hot, it's heavy, dragging my chin down till my teeth ache with dryness and the effort to keep my mouth closed, and while wearing it I cannot eat nor drink anything that doesn't have a straw. Given that the events I am called for can last hours, once in my getup, I cannot remove it until the end of the program.

And while wearing the suit, it can be hard to deal with the children and other people. Once you're in, you have to stay in character, voice, posture, everything. If you break it, and a child sees you, well... Who wants to be the one who confirm to a child that Santa is just some gaijin in a fake beard? Other children of course view Santa as something terrifying and scream, or think that Santa is a jungle-gym and clime up on to you, sometimes trying to get into the suit itself! Of course being Japan, appearing in public with the suit causes adults, especially women, to stream in from kilometers to snap pictures on their cells phones. As someone who is somewhat camera shy, I'm not exactly thrilled with the fact that hundreds of strangers have my photo, dressed as Santa stored somewhere.

So, yes, it is very hot uncomfortable work that usually sees me thrilled to be able to tear the beard from my face, scrub off the spirit gum, wash the whitener from my eye brows, and not have to speak in that deep of a voice. I'm thrilled to get out of the suit at the end of the day and back into street clothes.

And all of that for a bit of spending money... and a bit of Christmas magic.

One of the last events on the Santa calendar is Christmas Caroling in Okaya. The Okaya CIR has this event that he does where he invites the foreign population to come sing Christmas carols at two retirement/nursing homes and an orphanage. Last year and this year I've been asked to be Santa. The job is rather easy, I mainly just stand there, looking the part, give out a few Ho-ho-ho's, and hand out cards or gifts. I don't really even have to sing (Which, of course is a GOOD thing considering how bad I am). But it's that last stop, the orphanage, that makes it all worth it.

If you don't know, Japan's family laws are rather archaic. They were written in the Meiji Era, late 1800's, and reflect a time when blood and family bonds were extremely important. Children were the property of their families and the state had almost no right or say in how the family was to treat their children. The laws have not changed all that much, and given the social conditions, adoption or even foster care is almost unheard of, if it was even allowed by the family. So children in Japan's orphanages might be there until finally discharged as adults, never really having a home, just the center.

Of course, there's another, darker side to the story as well. Some of the children there are not the victims of unfortunate accidents and have lost their parents, nor were they given up shortly after birth and have no idea who their birth parents might be, they know all too well because they have families.

There's a growing problem in Japan of partial abandonment, where parents decide that they simply cannot deal with their child and drop them off at these child facilities and walk away. Sometimes they come back and take their child home, just to drop them back off after a few weeks. Sometimes these parents treat the care facilities as a kind of boarding house, a place to drop off their children for a few weeks while they go off and get a break from being parents, knowing that the state will feed and clothe their child. Then they come back and pick them up.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Some of these children have to endure watching their parents walk away multiple times, and then living with that stigma because in Japan, everyone will know where you live and that you aren't like the other children. Being different can be a rather bad thing here sometimes. And the state can do nothing due to antiquated laws that state a parent's rights are absolute and only in the most dire of circumstances can a child be taken into protective custody and only with parental or family permission can a child be fostered or adopted.

Of course, I don't actually KNOW the stories behind the children I saw last Saturday. Some of them may have lost their parents, some may have been given up shortly after birth, and some may have simply been dropped off. I didn't ask, because that's not what Santa does.

What Santa does, what I do, is give them, if just for a few hours, a bit of a bright spot. For the younger children, Santa came. He was there. They saw him, they touched his suit, tugged on his beard, heard his booming voice as he laughed at their antics, he gave them presents, handshakes, high-fives, and hugs. Santa is real, and he actually came to see them.

What a gift!

It doesn't make up for everything else, it doesn't provide them with a home or a family who cares and will always be around, but just for that moment, that few hours, that thing which gets derided and mocked, wished for and sighed over, that Christmas magic happened for those children and they could enjoy it.

Last year when I visited in the suit for the first time there was a little girl who was rather shy, she didn't want to get near me. She grabbed the gift I gave her and ran behind her caretaker, peering around the caretaker's leg at me with a frown.

This year, she greeted me with a huge smile and a hug and went back with us almost to the bus until her caretaker finally called her back.

So, for that day, for those times, I am Santa Claus. I look forward to being Santa for many, many more years. In the end, that suit isn't that uncomfortable after all.
So you see, being Santa isn't all that bad... except when it comes to my own children. The problem with being Santa is that, well, right now in my laundry room, Santa's suit is hanging up. His boots are being aired out. To prevent Santa from smelling like a storage room (Where the suit hangs out the rest of the year), I have to air it out. When Makoto was small, just a few months old, he of course had no idea who or what Santa was, so my hanging out the suit and changing wasn't a problem. Age one, no worries. Age 2, he started to get the idea of Santa, though he was not too sure just what was happening. Daddy and Santa were never seen in the same place of course, and he never caught me getting ready, but he was very excited when Santa came to a luncheon put on by the International Club and picked him up!

Is that Santa, or Daddy?
But when Makoto was three... I could tell, he was starting to put two and two together. Pictures from that year's luncheon showed a very perplexed Makoto who knew that suit, he had seen it hanging up in the house, and Daddy wasn't anywhere close by. Something wasn't right here, was Daddy, in fact, Santa Claus?

What to do? I decided the best way to explain it to Makoto at age 4 was to note that, yes, Daddy, does have a Santa costume because he is one of Santa's helpers. When Santa is busy, like he is at the end of the year, he asks Daddy to go off and pretend to be Santa for a bit to help him out. Makoto bought that. It makes sense, right?

This year, at age 5, however, he definitely knew. At the luncheon, he went around telling the other kids how Santa was his Daddy and offered to take them into the dressing room to show them the suit. He was quite annoyed when a quick thinking Daddy locked the door and didn't respond to any knocks or calls and then snuck out the other door.

The problem we now face is a culture clash, because if Daddy isn't Santa Claus, but dresses up as Santa, what about Santa who comes to his school?

Yes friends, the other day a Japanese 'Santa' came to Makoto's school to hand out presents (Tops that the kids will be playing with) and caused a bit of a problem, because Makoto's teachers told the kids that Santa lives in Finland whereas Daddy had told Makoto that he lives at the North Pole, and in fact that was where Makoto's letter to Santa went. Even worse, this Santa didn't speak English. This Santa was actually confused when Makoto spoke to him in English, which as we all know is the mark of an impostor as Santa has to speak English, right?

The final straw in my son's assessment of this Santa was the black mark of him not knowing how to say ho-ho-ho. That disqualified him immediately as Santa should ho-ho-ho. The poor teachers at Makoto's school had one hell of a time of keeping Makoto from telling all of his classmates that this was not Santa.

Thankfully, for peace of mind, Makoto's logic swung into play, if Daddy isn't Santa, and this guy isn't Santa, that must mean that the real Santa was just busy at the North Pole making toys. Thus will Santa keep visiting our house for a few more years, though I have a feeling Makoto is going to be an early learner of the secret due to a father who is Santa and two different cultural approaches to him.

As for Hikaru... at age two, his big thing is that Santa showed up and shook his hand! Something he has repeated non-stop for days now.

Ah, the magic of Christmas. Ho, ho, ho!

1 comment:

  1. Blood, sweat toil and cheers! Thanks for your hard work Santa, the kids LOVE it!