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775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ainít Easy Being Green
769: íTwas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
763: Down and Out in Tokyo
761: Kicking the bucket
760: Thumbing It
759: Fixing the System
757: Smoke rings
756: Stalking the Predators
755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Letís Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
747: Iíll be back
746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
744: Magical Mystery Tour
743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes íRí Us
740: The Mother of all Mothers
739: Crimes of Fashion
738: The Hafu Dad Brigade
737: The Green Team
736: Fight Club
735: The Paper Chase
734: The Wind-Up Writer Chronicle
733: Food For Thought?
732: Home and Away
731: The 2008 Nazi Olympics
730: The Two-Wheel Revolution
729: Gimme a Break
728: Power Play
727: Dying for a doctor
726: Footloose Revisited
725: Little Fish, Bigger Pond
724: Japanís Peace Monster
723: Language Abuse
722: Scumbusters ďRĒ Us
721: First Action Hiro
720: The Return of Asashoryu
718-719: A Time to Give
717: My Homelessness Dilemma
716: The 30 Percent Solution
715: Past Imperfect
714: Killing the Kimono
713: The trouble with Tibbets
712: Surfing the Shinto-net
711: Falling Stars
710: Macho Man
709: Bad Impressions
708: Bloodsport
707: Our Last Word
706: Anonymocracy
705: The Air Up There
704: Read the Signs
703: The sky should not be the limit
702: My Year Zero Proposal
701: The Joys of Freeganism
700: Prada for the People
699: The Parasite Country
698: Washed up in Tokyo
697: Birthingís Not for Babies
696: On the Handlebars of a Dilemma
695: My So-Called Poverty
694: Get Out the Vote
693: The Ishihara Mystery
691: Let it Flow
690: Cafť Culture
689: Oyaji Fashionistas
688: The Democracy of the Dysfunctional
687: Polite Disregard
686: Venting on Climate Change
685: Silent No Longer
684: To protect and serve?
683: Save the Sanshin building!
682: In the Realm of the Pond God
681: The Open Society and Its Enemies
680: Five-Ring Circus
679: Topic of Cancer
678: Pet Peeves
677: Why I am Banned in Japan
676: A long way to the top
675: Euro-vision
674: Childís play
673: Why I did it
672: I Love Japan
671: Running Crazy
670: Planet Apology
669: A peek behind the curtain
668: Opening Up
666: Pitching a fit
665: All wrapped up
664: Yule Rules
663: Field of Dreams
662: Save Lives, not Face
661: Why Do I Buy a Ticket?
660: Dying for a Nap
659: We, the jury
658: Grain of truth
657: Remembering The Maverick
656: A Rose by any Other Name
655: Heir today, gone tomorrow
654: Manhandled on the Metro
653: The bodyguards of the road
652: Separate but equal
651: Going for the gold
650: Being Audrey Hepburn
649: Not Sitting Pretty
648: Get Smart
647: Through foreign eyes
646: A failing grade in cute
644: Club Lands
643: Sayonara, Hide
642: The JET SET
641: What, me worry?
640: The Da Vinci Load
639: Making Waves
638: Final Cut
637: Resave the whales
636: Soccer Silliness
635: I, Smoker
634: The Ultimate Loss
633: Shoot the Messengers
632: The second sex
631: A Maverick Moves On
630: The curse of Baron Mitsui
629: Waiting for Heidi
628: Memoirs of a fake celebrant
627: Take it Outside
626: Wa? What wa?
625: A well-drawn life
624: St. Patrick the abducted
623: Bend over
622: The (Un)Late show
621: Oil spill
620: Ice Follies
619: Pride Goeth
618: Lost roles
617: Saying it with Cookies
616: Wrestling with foreigners
614-615: Blank Pages
613: Fretting Over Freeters
612: Farewell, Sensei
611: Sympathy for the wild ones
610: Back in Black
609: Out of many, one
608: Youth culture
607: The Russians are coming!
606: Meddle Detector
605: Tokyo, Mon amour
604: The Wailing Wall
603: Getting Abreast of Cancer
602: Willing Ally
601: New war,same story
600: The Big Chill
599: The Gray Zone
598: Jail break
597: Extremely Lost in Translation
596: Wounded Despot
595: History Lessons
594: Valhalla of the Imperial Army
592: Culture crash
591: Complaints Department
590: What lies beneath
589: Strange Games
588: Junk Science
587: The day the invaders came
586: The Test that Drove Me Crazy
585: Smile and say “lesbian”
584: Keep Article 9
583: The Great Divide
582: An ad for all seasons
581: Killing the Golden Goose
580: The other half
579: Give me back my bye-bye
578: Araki in Focus
577: Head out on the Highway
576: The hate that won't go away
575: Here's the beef
574: Yukking it up
573: Squatter’s rights and wrongs
572: The Trouble with Yokoso
571: Fire from the sky
570: Invasion of the gairaigo
569: Good company
568: Find Out What it Means To Me
567: Field of schemes
566: In the Name of Justice
565: Winner or Loser?
564: Staying Foreign
563: The Scare after Tomorrow
561-562: The Spirit of Things
560: War for remembrance
559: Storm damage
558: The Meaning of Godzilla
557: Who’s left to listen?
556: Paying respects
555: Gender Trouble
554: Coming clean at last
553: Go our own way
552: Hits of yesteryear
551: Heir apparel
550: Personal Reflections
549: Nuclear Reactions
548: Article of faith
547: Martyrs for the firm
546: A different anniversary
545: We, the jury
544: Wrongs & rights
543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged

By Bruce Sloan

The Spirit of Things

The true message of Christmas is alive in the heart of Tokyo

Bruce Sloan is the pastor of the Tokyo Union Church

The glowing blue illuminations of Roppongi, the department store display windows of Ginza, and the smartly dressed ladies of Omotesando have wooed me to reflect about this Christmas season. Ordering a meal in Japanese from a kanji menu as Elvis Presley's "Silent Night" plays over the sound system makes me realize, again, that Christmas in Japan is another unique foreign experience.

I welcome the enthusiasm of the Japanese who make me aware of this season. The Christmas trees are precisely and innovatively decorated, local communities have creatively placed the holidays into their street-lamp banners-and there goes a little Boston terrier dressed like Santa Claus.

Christmas in the Western tradition was shaped by the small villages of Europe. Townspeople living in tiny and cold homes during the short winter days would look forward to the warmth, bright lights and celebrative music of the church. Christmas was a community event. Carols were sung, scriptures read, and the great Christ Mass was celebrated on Christmas Eve. Children would act out the nativity scene as parents gave gifts of fruit and coins to the poor.

Today, Christmas has become more private. Even with massive shopping centers filled with people, the day is normally shared with family or close friends. This change makes it difficult for those who are away from family, or have no family, or have experienced the death of a loved one. The day whose purpose was to bring inclusion for all people can become a period of exclusion. Some may feel at a loss and wonder, Where is the joy?

Tokyo reintroduces us to shared celebrations. The religious aspect of Christmas is left to the individual, but there is the opportunity to make this season a joyful community event. The holiday here can be more meaningful than ever if we can return to the story of Christmas and its proclamation of love, joy and peace.

Walking down a small street in Harajuku, I see a lighted plastic Holy Family set around a baby in a manger. It is a peaceful scene with joyful expressions on the figures-the birth of a child always brings hope. This year, the city has also provided us with The Nutcracker, Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol and The Messiah. These performances give their distinctive interpretation of the season. The child's world of a mysterious nutcracker, the miserly businessman who finds the joy of giving, and the heart-moving words of the Messiah provide stories that help us find hope in the day that we live.

Christmas itself is a collection of tales about the miraculous birth in Bethlehem: the child born in a stable, shepherds separated from society by their occupation, and wise people who continually seek insight into the future. These stories connect to our own life stories and give us time to imagine a world where we do not fear and where we are accepted for who we are. We are invited during Christmas to share in the story of God's love. A love that is unconditional.

Christmas Eve in Tokyo is a time to reflect on our life and our opportunity to bring peace to our world. It could be a smile to a stranger, a word of encouragement to an office worker, or an email to a friend. It could be a visit to a local church, a quiet time of reading the scriptures, or a prayer that peace will prevail on earth.

Then Christmas shortly gives way to New Year festivals. As quickly as the decorations have gone up, they are swiftly replaced. The New Year will be here and we are off again into a new celebration. However, the story that began in a peaceful manger continues with the hope that someday the wolf will lie down with the sheep and the leopard shall lie down with the kid. This is a season that should raise our awareness of the wonder of our life… a life created for a divine purpose.

Recently, my three-year-old granddaughter called from the US and wanted us to whistle together. During our whistling contest, which brought laughter to both of us, I was carried far away from adult worries to a life of complete joy. I thought of something she said about gifts. A few days before Christmas last year, she looked into her overflowing toy chest and said, "Too much." Can a child lead us back to the meaning of Christmas?

Maybe we see our life as being filled with too much of the wrong stuff and not enough of the right stuff. Maybe we need a friend with whom to whistle.

Christmas is about a life that changed the lives of others. Perhaps this Christmas we can see the joy of our life bringing joy and peace to others. That could be the best gift we can give.

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.