Santa, Strawberry Cake and KFC: The Material Culture of the Contemporary Japanese Christmas
Although my background prior to starting the MA course was in Japanese studies, linguistics and literature, through the course I became extremely interested in the intersection between folklore, popular culture and objects. My main research interests are the festival, ritual and food culture of Japan, and the objects which are produced and consumed for celebratory or ritual events. My interests in this area extend beyond the realms of ‘traditional’ ritual culture. I am particularly fascinated by commercial festival events which sit somewhere between the spaces of ‘public’ and ‘private’, and the ways in which ritual knowledge of these events is mediated and negotiated in the modern world. During my time on the course I worked on Nō theatre masks, Japanese wartime rebranding of luxury commodities, and the material culture of imported festivals in Japan such as Halloween, Valentine’s Day and Christmas.
The topic of my dissertation was the contemporary Japanese Christmas, a subject which has been given comparatively little scholarly attention, and I felt was due a fresh look in the context of the twenty-first century. My research required a research trip to Japan for just under a month at a point when the commercial Christmas was well underway, an extremely useful and informative experience. Through this trip I was able to conduct oral history interviews and acquire an almost overwhelming range of printed ephemera, including magazines, Christmas gift and cake catalogues, menus, and brochures. In reaction to my findings in Japan, my paper included a case study on the Japanese Christmas cake. In addition, I was able to take advantage of my networks within the UK and collected some fascinating oral histories which offered significant insights. My research brought to light some interesting observations of contemporary Japanese culture, such as how imported festival traditions and new foods can be tightly interwoven with changing patterns of consumption and sociality; even allowing people to subvert established cultural conventions regarding gift-giving.