Many of us have heard the story. A Japanese department store once created a giant Christmas display which featured a jolly Santa, nailed to a cross, smiling down on the busy shoppers below. The incident became known as Santa Cross, a near-perfect confusion of Christianity's two most sacred celebrations.
Speaking as a former resident, this has all the hallmarks of an urban legend. Some recall the events in Osaka, some Tokyo; some set it just after the war, some in the nineties. And conveniently, no photos. (You gotta be suspicious when there are no photos of something in Japan!)
If some Santa hats have bunny ears...well, that's just more proof that the Japanese are sexual oddballs, right?
But on Christmas Eve 2004, I saw something that gave me pause to reconsider. It was a poster at Ebisu subway station, promoting the DVD release of Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of Christ.
The right half showed Christ carrying his cross to Calvary, the left showed a harried subway commuter carrying his own cross, amid a bustling crowd scurrying home with their Christmas goodies: presents, cakes, and a box that looked suspiciously like it might contain Kentucky Fried Chicken.
The headline read: Christ died on the cross. That's how Christmas began. The copy went on to encourage the reader to learn more about the true origins of the holiday with Mr.Gibson's helpful film.
Of all the holidays in the Christian calendar, Easter is the one which has gained least traction in Japan.
No coloured eggs. No baskets. No need for a spring break, because a home-grown holiday season starts every April 29, known as Golden Week. Buddhists believe in reincarnation as a matter of course, so Christ rising from the dead ain't such a big deal.
The story of the Passion is pretty unpleasant and not hugely optimistic. And, we're still waiting for the happy ending, aren't we?
Without Easter, how does one explain Christianity's brand logo? Graft it on to Christmas. Like I said, everything in Japan makes perfect sense.