Japan from the inside out

Nippon Noel: Eco-candles, chrysalises, and seashells!

Posted by ampontan on Sunday, December 23, 2007

IT’S FASCINATING TO SEE the many ways that Japanese have taken the foreign concept of Christmas and made it their own. Here are three more examples.


The Yubara hot springs district in Maniwa, Okayama Prefecture, has been presenting the Candle Fantasy in Yubara since the 20th. The organizers display what they call eco-candles: they were made with used cooking oil received from local ryokan (Japanese inns) and restaurants.

They were even clever enough to get other people to do the work for them. The 6,000 candles were made by an estimated 300 people, primarily area children and tourists staying at local lodgings, since last October. They will be lit from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. until the night of the 25th.
The first photo shows a scene from the Candle Fantasy. It’s unlike any of the images that I associate with Christmas from my childhood, but the combination of hot steam, candlelight, and Japanese design in a spa resort on a cold winter night does create a memorable sight.


How would you like to see a Christmas tree in which the decorations are suddenly transformed and fly away? That’s not a Science Fiction Fantasy—that’s the reality of the Christmas tree displayed in the Itami City Museum of Insects in Hyogo Prefecture. As you can see from the second photo, the 1.5 meter-high Christmas tree is decorated with chrysalises of the tree nymph butterfly, which are naturally gold. The tree has been set up in the museum greenhouse, where an estimated 1,000 live butterflies dwell. It will be on display until 24 December.

The tree nymph butterflies, one of the largest butterflies in Japan, inhabit the southwestern islands below Kyushu. The butterfly itself is known for its black and white speckled wings as well as its gold chrysalises, which are four to five centimeters in length. The butterflies hang them upside down from tree branches, and the museum has utilized this to decorate their Christmas tree for several years.
They’ve also placed green and pink chrysalises from other butterfly varieties on the tree. It takes about two weeks for the butterflies to emerge, and the museum encourages people to visit by reminding them they might get to see it happen if they’re lucky.


And it’s no surprise that an island country would find a way to celebrate Christmas with a maritime theme. The Sea and Shell Museum of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, is holding its special Shellfish Christmas 2007 exhibit until the 24th. One of the features of the exhibit is a Christmas tree trimmed with seashells, as you can see from the third photo.

The tree is 3.5 meters high and is decorated with 150 shells of 55 varieties from around the world, in addition to the usual lights.

The museum has a collection of 110,000 shells, and it is also exhibiting another 150 shells of 28 varieties whose names are derived from the word snow. The curator said there were a surprising number of shellfish from the South Seas whose names are derived from the word snow, despite the fact they don’t have any there.

Well, there are very few Christians in Japan, but that doesn’t stop the Japanese from having fun at Christmastime!

Note: I’ve added the link for the website of the Itami City Museum of Insects to the right sidebar.

2 Responses to “Nippon Noel: Eco-candles, chrysalises, and seashells!”

  1. Taste said

    It’s really a shame to see how Christmas is being instilled into Japanese culture. I might as well be living the US. The same music, the same lights, the same commercialism. What kind of backward savages would we be if we didn’t accept every aspect of American culture?
    You don’t see Americans carrying shrines through the streets or practicing tea ceremony. That should tell you all you need to know.

  2. john k said

    Christmas and the “what is christmas” is only becoming popular in Japan becasue of the influx of western, predominantly American, films and TV.
    Adverts on Fox and AXN for example are sshowing american films with christams as its theme. The more this is shown, the more the Japanese ask..”what is christmas..”
    But the them it is all about lights and trees, and that is about it!
    This is a bit like saying Sakura is about different colours on trees or Obon as a day off to go visit mates and talk about the dead.
    Christmas has a very significant meaning to most western nationals. Just adding lights doesn’t “make it their own”…as the “spirit and meaning” of christmas is abscent.
    Just as it would be if in the west, if everyone sat by a tree in april and said “oh look that tree has some colour today…so what”.

    So, are “we” pleased for this interest in christmas because it makes “us” feel more accepted, or feel like “we” are at home or feel “less” isolated from our own culture?

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