I have spent quite a considerable amount of time looking for a Santa in Japan. Believe it or not, he is quite hard to come by in this neck of the woods. I guess we are just a little too far from Lapland. Although my kids are aged between 7 and 2 years old, my earnest quest for Santa only started last year after a few years of disappointing Santa visits. Thankfully the kids were young enough that they were not disappointed, but I needed to find somewhere that they could have a good Santa experience for my own sanity as much as their pleasure, and thankfully I did.
I had a magical Christmas in Ireland after my first child was born in 2009. Of course, my eldest doesn't remember any of it, he was only 4 months old, but I felt the special joy that is Christmas with a young child. Fast forward a year and I was 8 months pregnant with my 2nd baby and I desperately wanted to go to Ireland again, but no-one would let me on a plane. How bad could Christmas in Japan be, I thought. And thankfully, that year I was lucky and protected from the disaster that Christmas can be here, as Christmas happened to fall on a Saturday. You see, Christmas day is just like any other day of the year here for the working population. Nothing closes and businesses operate as normal. My husband actually normally works 6 days a week, but Saturdays are casual and so he was able to take it off. Little did I realize at that time how that was an exception and not the precedent for the following years. That was his first and only Christmas with us in the past 6 years.
That year 2010, my eldest was still young enough and my bump big enough, that I didn't feel the need to find a Santa. However, by the following year, 2011, I was keen to expose the kids to one of the most important celebrations of my country's calendar year. I found a local Santa with no bother and reveled in the fact that Christmas might not be so different to what I was used to. The day of the Santa meet and greet came and myself and the 2 kids headed to the location, donned in Santa hats. My first lesson in Christmas cultural differences upset me more than a sack of coal on Christmas morning; Santa was Japanese and donned in a 100 yen shop Santa outfit that looked as fake as I did on Christmas night the previous year. I probably looked more realistic with my 8 month baby bump than the skinniest Santa in Saitama. I tried to compose myself and get in the mood, but everything was different. The atmosphere was like a Christmas office party before the booze arrives, the kids weren’t in awe of or excited to see Santa, the music was Christmas variations of Japanese anime songs and the elves were plain clothes teachers from the local kindergarten. The one saving grace was that Santa gave out presents which my then 2 year old enjoyed.
I swore I’d never spend another Christmas in Japan, but fate has a funny way of laughing at our plans. I had my 3rd child that September and there was no way I was flying solo with a 2 year old, 22 month old and a new born on my own! However, we were lucky that year to meet a good Santa near Narita Airport when my parents were visiting just before Christmas. The following year, 2013, I finally brought the (then) three children home to Ireland for the Christmas of a life-time. The eldest, who was 4 at the time, will never forget it. 2014 I had a newborn again and limited time to find a Santa, so we went to a below par Japanese Santa again. The real search for the real Santa, started in earnest last year 2015 and a year later I am still on a mission. I have unearthed over 50 places you can visit Santa in the Kanto area and the majority of them are the “real” Santa from Lapland. Joy to the World!
It has been Santastic to find so many places for the kids to meet the big guy, but it is still not quite like home. The Santa visits here in Japan are generally free, but with the result that the experience isn’t a quality one. The Santa Claus here don’t have a grotto, they don’t have a professional photographer to take a family photo with Santa, Santa doesn’t sit kids on his knee and ask them what they would like on Christmas morning, and Santa doesn’t give out a present. You queue up with hundreds of other families for a one minute meet and greet which is usually just an hello and a Ho-Ho-Ho, and one of your family members has to take the photo of you with Santa, with your own camera!* (*Sometimes there is somebody there to take a photo if it is in a mall or shop). To end on a positive note, I do feel lucky that we now have a selection of places to meet Santa in the Kanto area. There was a time when there was nowhere to visit him in Japan and there are still some prefectures in Japan that are In Search of Santa!
If you want to avoid the disappointment of a fake Santa or a pony or Alpaca Santa (yes, that is a thing here!), you can find some places on my personal blog:
33 Places you can visit Santa in Tokyo
And you can find other locations in Tochigi, Ibaraki, Kanagawa and Gunma on the blog too.