Table Speech

“Difficulties of acting as a young Santa Claus”

December 6, 2006

Mr. Arthur Binard,

 As an American who can understand Japanese fairly well, I receive all kinds of unusual requests. Some of these requests come to me just because they can not find a foreigner who can speak easily in Japanese not considering my other capabilities. One job I perform every December which is very typical of such a job is my role as Santa Claus.

 In order to become Santa Claus in the United States, you have to be like a big grand father with white hair, beard and have clean teeth. Though I have clean teeth and can say Ho-Ho-Ho well due to having learned Konparu-ryu in Japan, as I am a slim young man without white beard, it would be difficult for me to be a Santa Claus in the United States. When I was asked to act as a Santa Claus, I was just 23 yeas old.

 My story of becoming a Santa Claus goes like this.
I came to Japan in June 1990 and I started to take lessons in Japanese calligraphy.

 All the students at the calligraphy class were grade school children and they kindly welcomed me in the class. In November, I was asked to become a Santa Claus, when the Ikebukuro library holds their annual Christmas Party. A Japanese gentleman from the library had been acting as a Santa Claus, but since the children did not believe him to be Santa Claus, they thought an America will make a better Santa Claus. I accepted the job without much thinking.
On the day of the party, I took a heavy lunch so that I looked more like a Santa Claus of stout build. I practiced “Jingle Bells” singing in my apartment. I dressed with red and white cap, red trousers, black belt, black boots and white beard. I looked myself in the mirror and I thought the children would laugh at this young fake Santa Claus. But when I stepped onto the stage, all of the children shouted “Real Santa Claus !!, Santa Claus of Whiteman !!”. I responded positively by singing “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night” loudly and merrily. I handed over Christmas presents to the children and I acted as a Santa Claus very well. The party was very successful and I was asked to continue to act as Santa Claus next year.

 As a Santa Claus, I always have an interview session after singing songs. An example of the questions from children is “Where do you live?”, “Where did you park your sleigh?”(Children here are sensitive about parking problem.) I enjoyed answering questions from the children and tried to answer so that children can believe me as a real Santa Claus.

 During those 17 years, I had once wanted to quit to become a Santa Claus. After 7th year, I came across a model of Colonel Sanders as I walked by the Kentucky Fried Chicken Shop. He dressed exactly same as I, in the attire of Santa Claus. I felt like I am acting for the promotion of commercialism of the large enterprise.

 Santa Claus is a nick name of Saint Nicholas, a priest in the 4th century. He was highly respected as a Saint to protect children and students in the medieval period. It was around the time of Industrial Revolution, when Saint Nicholas was associated with Christmas. And it was 1931 when stout image of Santa Claus with white and red colors was made by Mr. Sandbrom, a painter, as a image character for the winter sales campaign of Coca Cola. Because I remembered this story of how Santa Claus was used for commercial promotion, I started to concern about acting as Santa Claus because I felt like I am just helping the commercialism instead of pleasing the children.

 A few days later, in order to clarify my worries about commercialism of Santa Claus, I checked a few books in my book shelf and found a poem called “Flying Sleigh” by Mr. Hideo Oguma. The main character of the poem is an Ainu named “Ikubashui”, Japanese name, “Yotsuji Gontarou”. The sleigh is pulled by dogs instead of reindeers. Gontaro’s outlook of the world is to live with the natural environment. His relationship with dogs and his mind to help young foresters is what Santa Claus should maintain. Dignity and kindness of Gontaro is what Santa Claus should have. There, I saw an ideal Santa Claus that I could relate to, and my worries about Santa Claus as commercialism disappeared.

 Since then, every year, I read the poem of “Flying Sleigh” to myself and I try to become Santa Claus, like Gontaro. I also practice “Utai”, so that I can pronounce from the bottom of my stomach in order to prepare to be a Santa Claus at the Christmas party every year.

 This year, it will be the 17th party I participate as a Santa Claus and I would like to answer the questions of the children to Santa Claus as Gontaro would answer with dignity and kindness.