It’s a funny one, Japan at Christmas.
Just like Halloween, the celebrations start well before the actual event. In fact, I saw my first lot of Christmas illuminations go up in my hometown of Oizumigakuen at the end of October: before Halloween! Hands up who’d take the mick out of people for that in England? Yep, me too. Oddly enough, these decorations included this little fella…
With this in mind, as well as the festive themed lessons I’ve been teaching and the numerous Christmas trees knocking about, you’d be forgiven for being a little surprised to hear that Christmas is actually just another working day to most people in Japan. It was a little grim waking up and going downstairs to discover that most of my housemates were at work, and that those who were actually here weren’t all that arsed for Christmas anyway.
To an extent, it seemed like the only natural thing for me to do would be to get on with things as if it was a normal day too; so I did. I dragged myself out of bed, did a bit of food shopping, went to the gym and cracked on with a few episodes of The Americans. Merry Christmas indeed.
Before you start feeling too sorry for me though, I’m going to tell you it was all ok! This was, in no small part, down to the fact that a number of fellow teachers and I had booked in for Christmas dinner at the Meguro Tavern – an English pub in the city.
Now, I’m not someone who can’t live without a daily dose of English food but there are a few things I need. For example, a good tin of baked beans is always welcome and – of course – a Sunday roast. After last year’s extortionate Christmas Day Chinese in Sydney, I had my heart set on something a little more traditional this year.
At ¥7,500 per head it’s certainly not the cheapest eat in Tokyo but, as is the case back home, you are always going to pay much more for Christmas dinner. Thankfully, with Christmas dinner you tend to get a lot more for your money which was also the case at the Meguro Tavern. Included in the ¥7,500 charge were four courses, bread, a cheese board with port and a choice between a glass of champagne or eggnog.
The bar, on the other hand, was a little bit on the pricey side. Glasses of wine were going for ¥850, whilst a pint of lager set you back a cool ¥1000. No prizes for guessing that wine was my drink of choice: stronger and cheaper…what’s not to like?
As I mentioned above, dinner included four courses plus a cheese board – enough to satisfy the hungriest of diners! Let me assure you, the top button on my jeans was very close to coming undone. Seeing as I’m far too lazy to type out what was included in each course, here’s a picture of the menu.
Naturally, the main event was the turkey dinner and I’m pleased to report it didn’t disappoint! The portions were generous, and the turkey was cooked to perfection. It was also great to taste some food I’ve yet to come across in Tokyo, such as roast potatoes, stuffing and what appeared to be proper bacon. I’ve had bacon numerous times since arriving here, however the large majority of the time it was either streaky, fatty stuff, or something that resembled a pork chop more than a slice of bacon. Not here though. Oh no. This seemed like proper farmers market back bacon. Excellent stuff.
The food kept coming at a steady pace with enough time between courses for everyone to catch their breath before stuffing their faces again. The cheese and port were a nice way to round things off, as good quality cheese is also something I’ve struggled to find here. I’m unsure whether I’m looking in the wrong places, or whether the tightness in me just shields my eyes from the prices of the good cheese. No need for answers on a postcard there, people.
One of the things that takes some getting used to about being away from home on Christmas day is the lack of traditional festivities that you’re used to. I’m used to waking up, opening a few presents, having a bacon butty and a glass of champagne before heading down to the pub for a drink or two whilst dinner is cooking. I don’t ask for much, do I?
Along with eating a traditional Christmas dinner, we also decided to do a ‘secret Santa’ of sorts which helped make things feel a little more festive! The rules were very simple: those who wanted to take part bought a present from one of the many ¥100 shops in Tokyo (more on them at a later date – just picture Poundland, but half as cheap and with actual good stuff in there), wrap the gift up and put it in the middle of the table. After that, we all picked a number out of a hat, and then took it in turns to pick a present from the table.
Now I know I mentioned that ¥100 shops were full of good things, but when you’re shopping for a Christmas present everything seems a little crappy. In the end, I picked up a smartphone ‘speaker’, which was essentially the equivalent of putting your phone in a glass and having it echo. I thought my gift was bad, but in comparison to a few others it was actually quite passable. Not bad for 50p…
Other people were the lucky recipients of a hammer (yes, really), some disposable underwear, a mug, a lunch box and many other gifts. As for me? Well, I was quite happy with my gift, actually…
As the night progressed, a mixture of hangovers and food comas were well and truly kicking in and everyone went their separate ways. After a quick stop off for a night cap at the Hub in Shibuya (it really was an English Christmas!) it was time to call it a night. It was a different Christmas for quite a few reasons, but it was nice to know that a good Christmas dinner can be found in Tokyo. The Meguro Tavern came highly recommended by a number of people, and I’ll happily pass on the recommendation to anyone who asks in future. Apparently they do a mean Sunday carvery too which, providing I can get a Sunday off work, may have just worked its way on to my to-do list.
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