A holiday season in Japan with COVID-19

Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi
Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi

A holiday season in Japan with COVID-19

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

Much like in the States, the holiday season in Japan is usually the most cheerful and busiest time of year — under normal conditions, of course. We have parties, also known as bonenkai, which are informal year-end celebrations with coworkers and friends. And there are gifts, New Year’s greeting cards, winter illuminations, Christmas markets and more. This time of the year is hectic, but it is also one full of joy.

This year, this joyous season is another unfortunate victim of the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be no late-night parties with our coworkers or gathering with friends and family for many of us. Many of the holiday events my family and I look forward to are either drastically scaled back or canceled altogether.

Our schedules and plans have had to change completely. We won’t be visiting relatives in the New Year as officials encourage people to stay home in Japan. My family and I won’t be attending Christmas Mass as we usually do, nor will we be heading to the big market like Ameyoko in Ueno to pick up fresh seafood for our New Year’s Osechi foods. This holiday season will be like no other we have experienced, but it also doesn’t mean we can’t look for joy in what we do have.

Winter illuminations around the country are still shining brightly, keeping some normalcy while allowing for social distancing. From Yokohama to Nagasaki and up to Misawa, there are plenty of places where you can still go out and enjoy a bit of holiday cheer safely.

And though we cannot spend time together this year, technology continues to connect us, allowing us to celebrate together but apart. My wife recently celebrated my mother-in-law’s 101st birthday in an online celebration, including my wife’s sister living in Guam and the other sister who lives in the States. Even if it was via computer, their long conversation and the meals they prepared to have while on the call made it feel like they were all in the same room.

This year also means that one of my favorite parts of the season, bonenkai parties, are also going online. Even if online parties aren’t as fun as the ones we’d have in person, we have been working from home since April, so it will be nice to see my coworkers again, even if it is on a screen. But I will definitely miss tying my necktie around my forehead, a custom to signify how much fun we’re having.

Another change will be how many nengajo cards I will be sending. Like the holiday cards you send in the States, we send nengajo New Year’s greeting cards in Japan. I usually send about 100 cards, and they always are a good reminder of just how blessed I am. I will be writing more this year because it is important now more than ever to convey my love and thoughts to my loved ones.

We have indeed had to change how we celebrate many things this year, and unfortunately, the changes have continued to Christmas and New Year’s festivities. Despite all of this, I’m looking forward to what 2021 has in store. My wife, daughter, and I will be ringing in the New Year with lucky toshikoshi soba, catching up with relatives via video call, and being thankful to have each other no matter what the future has in store. Happy holidays and Happy New Year to you and your family!


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