What is Christmas, anyway? A blowout with all the trimmings? A riot of color and sentiment to decorate the otherwise drab year? A sham and fraud perpetrated upon mankind?

In Japan, where it is widely observed, Christmas has become almost altogether a thing of toys and tinsel, of songs and selling, stolidly secular in conception and appeal. In that educationally and industrially advanced nation, few people are shocked, apparently, when a Tokyo night club bills a striptease to the accompaniment of “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

For Western tastes, this is carrying matters a bit far. It smacks of the “Black Mass” intended to lampoon and desecrate the holy. The mere suggestion that the sacred song of Christmas could be associated with one of the lowest forms of entertainment jars our Western sensibilities. Why?

Yes, why? Where did the Japanese, with little or no Christian tradition of their own, pick up the idea of a completely secular Christmas, observed with no regard for its origins and with no particular interest in its religious significance? Yes, where?

Japanese businessmen know a good thing when they see it. Their penchant for imitating, and occasionally improving upon, the products of the West received recognition in a post-World War II British cartoon, depicting two executives of an English pottery firm engaged in puzzled examination of a letter, while one of them remarked: “Here is a gentleman from Japan who wants one of everything in our line.”

The flamboyant Christmas of Japan, however, did not come from England. It is a typically American product our friends across the Pacific borrowed along with the optical instruments, electronics, toys, textiles, pottery, and automobiles of the West. What they saw they took, adding a ...

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