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Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Tokyo Santa Claus Academy

Sometimes I think the JET Programme may have gone to far.

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus Academy in Tokyo that trains men in the art of becoming Santa-san.

Down in the Roppongi district of Tokyo, there is a school that provided a crash course on the art of Santa Claus-ing to as many as 88 men recently.

Says Azuma Masaki (surname first) the head of the school: "There are many children who don't believe in Santa Claus anymore. So I said to myself, 'Let's bring Santa Claus back.'"

This is awesome!

Who knew that there were so many children in Japan, a notoriously non-Christian Buddhist following country?

Ahh... but wait... I'm sure that Santa Claus in Japan is more of a marketing tool for consumerism than it is for traditional whatever it is we think it is for here in the western world. Waitaminute... Santa Claus is a tool for commercialism and has been ever since his image was hawked by the Coca-Cola Company to shill for the delicious beverage maker 80 years ago or more. In fact, Coca-Cola helped create the Santa Claus image we all known and love.

But... is that what this Santa Claus Academy is all about? Nawwww.

Azuma, 70, trains the would-be Santa-sans in the art of  not to replying to anything unless addressed as 'Santa-san,' and follows that up by teaching them magic tricks, which Azuma recommends as a good ice-breaker for often shy tots.

I'm guessing the magic tricks involve how to nod your head with your finger pressed up beside your nose to get in and out of chimneys... do those even exist in Japan? Well... maybe in that case he's teaching them the magic trick of how to make worker elves in Malaysia and Indonesia do your bidding to build Sony Walkman's and Discman's... no wait, news just came out from Japan that Sony has just this week decided to stop making those? Who the hell was buying Walkman's and Discman's in 2012? Evidently no one, but no one noticed they were still manufacturing them until November of this year. Hmm... maybe Azuma is teaching the magic trick of how to deliver all of those unused Walkman's and Discman's to all the boys and girls all over the world in a single 24-hour period? That would be a cool trick!

The rest of the training involved how to answer questions from concerned children who might ask: "My house doesn't have a chimney and we also have a security system, so how will you be able to come in and deliver my present?"

Another great question would be: "The tsunami washed away my house back in March of 2011 and we are forced to live in a makeshift home far away... how do you know where I live when I don't?

Or: "Since the March 2011 disasters when the nuclear reactor when all glitchy and turned our home radioactive, do you know when the Japanese government will get off its collective ass and get my family back into our home?"

Of course, Azuma teaches the students to answer that Santa will, no matter what, deliver presents and will always find a way. Never mind the home security system... it knows him.

I am unsure if there was answer regarding the housing crisis, though.

Students were then dressed up in their Santa suits and allowed to stroll the streets of the nearby Omotesando area where they could pose for pictures with local walkers or high-five students. I believe Santa-san IS allowed to make the peace sign in photographs.

Says Santa-san student Iida Kazuko (surname first): "Not only were we able to attract attention, we also interacted and made each other's days."

Iida visits local preschools and retirement homes during the Christmas season.

Azuma believes his school has a lot to offer Japan, "Even as times change, Santa Claus is a figure that needs to live in the hearts of everyone."

To Azuma and his Santa Claus Academy, I can only say "I believe" and will plan to leave out a plate of sembei (Japanese rice crackers) and a glass of hot sake for Santa when he comes this year.

Oh.. and for all of you folks who watched the John Waters episode of The Simpson's 10 years ago and wondered if Annual Gift Man (aka Japanese Santa Claus) was really known as that - he's not. But, Christmas in Japan is indeed played up solely as a commercial enterprise with no redeeming traditional characteristics - like peace on Earth and all of that jive. It makes Christmas in Japan ring a little hollow.

But... it seems like the heart of Azuma and his Santa Claus Academy may be in the right place. Nice.   

Ho-ho-ho (three of those would make a nice Christmas present!),
Andrew Joseph
I could also use a new Sony Walkman. Mine was lost when it became obsolete back in 1984.

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