Japan from the inside out

Nippon Noel: Japanese Christmas tree finale!

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, December 25, 2007

MOST OF THE JAPANESE CHRISTMAS TREE designs we’ve seen over the past few days have been recognizabe as Christmas trees, albeit from a unique perspective. This Christmas night post, however, features three trees that really stretch the envelope for Yuletide design.

The arrangement of lights shown in the first photo isn’t even called a tree, though it is conical in shape and definitely suggests a Christmas tree. The creators refer to it as an objet, however, and it has been on display in a park in Sumoto, Hyogo Prefecture all month.


As with two of the PET bottle trees shown in the previous post, this is also a project of the local JCs. The group has been involved with public lighting displays in the city during the Christmas and New Year’s season since 1999, but they substantially changed the exhibit’s design this year.

The tree–sorry, objet—is 15 meters high and five meters in diameter. An estimated 10,000 red, orange, and yellow LEDs were used in its creation. There is also a tunnel created by lights nearby, and both are surrounded by a 1.5-meter wide path, along which are hung 6,500 PET bottle lamps carved by local kindergarten students.

The object at the top of the objet is what appears to be an upside-down human figure, but none of the reports I saw included an explanation of what it was supposed to be doing. If we let our imaginations roam freely and look at the exhibit upside down, we could say it resembles the Spirit of Christmas from Outer Space beaming his Noel Ray down on the people of Sumoto.

Whatever it is, it will be lit every night from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. until 6 January.

The next tree doesn’t need electricity to create a glow—a subtle illumination emanates from it naturally. That’s because it’s made out of an estimated 10,000 cultured pearls.

On display at the Japan Pearl Center in Kobe, the two-meter long tree is worth about 30 million yen (about US$ 263,000).


Assembly of the tree required about three months. The pearls, which range from eight millimeters to one centimeter in diameter, are hung like chandeliers on 400 threads from the ceiling and illuminated vertically. The creation–pearl objet?–is said to shine with a mysterious milky white color when viewed in a dimly lit room.

The pearl tree (on which no partridge could roost) was made by the Pearl City Kobe Association, a group that consists of 70 companies in the industry. Their objective was not only to celebrate Christmas, but also to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the development of the Akoya Cultured Pearl technique, which was the key to making pearls more inexpensive and therefore accessible to the public at large.

The Akoya Cultured Pearl technique for coaxing oysters to create pearls on demand was invented by two Japanese, Tokichi Nishikawa and Tatsuhei Mise, and successfully commercialized by Kokichi Mikimoto. The story is fascinating, and you can read more about it at the bottom of this page. Mikimoto had a long history of creating elaborate structures with pearls, so it is likely the association did not come up with the idea of making a large pearl Christmas tree on the spur of the moment.


The next tree is my personal favorite for the sheer brilliance of the idea alone. This Christmas tree is located in the Omotesando Station in Minato Ward, Tokyo. In Japanese, a subway is literally an underground railroad (chikatetsu[do]). Since the station is underground, it only makes sense that the portion of the tree visible there would be the roots. Therefore, this decorated Christmas tree is not the part above the ground, but the part below the ground—the Christmas roots.

The tree—sorry, roots–are in the Echika Omotesando section of the station, which is a commercial area with restaurants and shops. Instead of giving the tree’s height, the reports say it is “two meters deep”.

The pink ornaments hanging from the tree are actually Christmas cards on which messages can be written. Every Friday for the past month, the nearby shops have distributed the cards to customers, who jotted down their Christmas wishes. The cards are then placed on the tree.
Japanese readers and those familiar with Japan will recognize this as a custom borrowed from Tanabata on 7 July, during which people write their wishes on colored pieces of paper and hang them from a bamboo tree. For as often as it is claimed that the Japanese are an insular people with a tendency toward xenophobia, there are in fact more spontaneous expressions of multiculturalism here than people think–and this represents another one.

Finally, lest you think the country has floated over the edge into the Christmas twilight zone, here’s a more conventional decoration on a more conventional Japanese piece of architecture.


That’s the Megane Bridge in the Isahaya Park in Isahaya, just outside of Nagasaki City, shown in the fourth photo. The word megane in Japanese means eyeglasses, and the reason the bridge was given that name is obvious once you look at the photograph. Built in 1839 in imitation of the older and smaller Megane Bridge in Nagasaki City, which is reportedly the oldest stone arch bridge in the country, it has been designated an important cultural treasure by the national government.

This year the city decided to festoon the bridge with lights, and they used an estimated 5,000 of them for the project. They’ve been on from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. every night since the 15th. The bridge has been decorated in conjunction with a larger event that also involves a 10-meter-high light tower and roadside bushes and trees hung with another 25,000 lights. (This is what the bridge looks like when it’s not decorated for Christmas.)

The show will last until 14 January, after which the lights will be removed, the objets will be dismantled, the PET bottles recycled, the roots restored to the dirt, and the country again returns to normal!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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