Christmas in Japan

Families Trends & Culture - December 17th, 1993

by Glenn Jenkins

During my stay in Japan, I’ve come to love life here. The best thing that’s happened, though, hap­pened at Christmas last year when the strangest thing occurred. I’d left work a bit later than usual—after all, it was Christmas Eve and I had to hurry to the store to buy toys for my son. Well, you may have guessed: by the time I arrived, the store was closing—and, anyway, all the good toys had been sold. I was beside myself, wondering what to do.

I called my wife at home and vowed to find an open store if at all possible. Need I tell you that I was unsuccessful after driving frantically from one shop­ping center to another. As I was walking back to my car, I recalled clearly I’d promised little Toby that I’d for sure give him all the goodies on his list he’d com­piled (with mommy’s help). This somewhat lengthy list included all the most popular toys advertised and displayed in the stores and on TV, plus his most fer­vent desire.

I searched through my briefcase, looking for this list so painstakingly prepared by the little guy. In the depths of my case I found suddenly in my hand a scrap of papier I swear I’d never seen before. On it was a telephone number and an odd message which read: ‘Toys of any kind, any time.” At first, I thought about stopping at a red pay phone and calling the number, but something inside advised me to wait.

Well, I found Tony’s list and read it once again. Here is what he’d written in his childish scrawl:

Dear Santa:

I would like the following items, if you have time to bring them this far. As you probably know, my daddy works in Japan, so I can’t come to see you at the department store because I didn’t know where you would be. Well, mommy and daddy said if I write you this letter, they would make sure you get it.

Please bring 1. Jetman gun, 2. Nintendo, 3. Dagarn Robot, 4. R/C car, 5. Bicycle, 6. Firetruck (red). Also, Santa, get something for mommy and daddy and get something nice for yourself and send the bill to daddy.

Merry Christmas and love, Toby

Well, I knew there was no time to find an open store, so I checked that number again, took a deep wreath, said a little prayer—and dialed. As I held the phone, I heard something like static electricity shoot­ing through my arm. I dropped the phone in alarm. When I picked it up again and inserted ¥100 in the slot, the dial tone sounded a bit strange, but it may have been the phone, damaged when I dropped it.

I dialed the number I’d found in my briefcase, covered with doubt and insecurity. A female voice came in loud and clear: “Hello, Mr. Johnson. We’ve been expecting your call.”

“How do you know my name?” I asked, startled.

“We know everyone,” she replied calmly. “Now about that list your boy wrote; let me confirm everything.” She then repeated the letter, word for word. This was impossible, I shouted inwardly. I’d shown the list to no one. With great trepidation, I asked, “When did you receive Toby’s letter?”

“Why, the same day you got our phone number,” she replied as if talking to a not-too-smart child.

I suddenly was confused, disoriented, almost dizzy. “I don’t remember actually receiving this number,” I sort of mumbled, almost incoherent. “I just found it in my bag.” She softly replied, “Mr. Johnson, that’s when you received it. Tomorrow you will find the items under Toby’s Christmas tree. Included somewhere in the packages will be the bill.”

I was so astounded it was almost frightening. I nearly pinched myself in the classic manner of deter­mining if one were in a dream.

I drove straight home and told my wife, step by step, what had happened on this amazing evening. Naturally, her first question was how many karaoke bars I’d stopped at on my way home.

I shunted her question aside. “I stopped at no bars, babe. This really happened as I told it. I guess tomor­row morning I can take Toby to some stores and let him pick out the toys he wants. I’ll make up some kind of story about how Santa was delayed or couldn’t find Japan—or something! OK?”

The next morning, I awoke to the sound of happy shouts, screams and the thumping of run­ning feet. Dazed from sleep, I yelled, “Hey, what’s gong on?” Without warning, my wife was suddenly on top of me, giggling, tickling me, smothering me with kisses, shouting, “Sweetheart, you’re the most wonderful husband in the world! Come look un­der our tree!”

To my astonishment, the floor was cluttered with a wild array of every type of toy you could imagine. I asked Donna how she possibly got all those presents into the house without my knowing. She was quickly still, sober faced. “Me?” she asked. “Me? I thought you sneaked them in during the dead of night.” I assured her I’d not left our bed all night.

We began poking through the mound of gifts un­der the tree when a colorful envelope caught my eye. It was addressed ‘To Mr. Johnson.” I ripped it open with trembling fingers. A letter inside said this:

“Dear Mr. Johnson:

“We were quite happy when you called us last night, because we knew you couldn’t get off work on time to shop for Toby’s gifts. We wanted to find out for certain if your heart was as golden as your child’s is. We were very touched by Toby’s letter, so we showed it to our Boss.

“He assured us that he knows all little kids no matter where they are or what their background might be. He wanted us to assemble all Toby’s toys to prove a point, not to Toby, but to you. You seemed to be the one who didn’t believe in Santa Claus. You were so concerned that your boy wouldn’t wake up to our tradition. We hope you are now convinced that Santa is there. The truth is that God put Santa Claus here to teach us all the joy of giving.

“But Santa is very sad, too, because he has seen major changes in what Christmas was, is supposed to be and what it has become. The foremost problem is that he feels Christmas is dying because people are taking Christ out of Christmas to make it ‘X-mas.’ Santa wants the world to know that this day is for a celebration of the birth of the Son of Cod and his wish is that you tell this story of Toby and his gifts to remind everyone.

“Give and receive—that is God’s gift to you. Keep Christ in Christmas and Santa will always exist. That will be God’s gift to mankind.

“Merry Christmas, “Santa Claus & Company”