Photo/IllutrationA Christmas market in Berlin (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Author Kanoko Okamoto (1889-1939) lived in Berlin during the 1930s and experienced the city’s lively atmosphere as Christmas approached.

Farmers sold fir trees, freshly cut from the woods and lined up on the streets.

The clusters of trees, surrounded by the snowy cityscape, must have looked like a small forest.

In her essay “Berurin no Kotansai” (Christmas in Berlin), Okamoto described the scene as follows: “Small forests of fir spring up everywhere--on roadsides, street corners and in the narrowest gaps to fill.”

Putting up a Christmas tree in one’s home was not yet a custom in Japan back then.

A number of yuletide practices have since been introduced to this country over the years.

Among the latest is “gluhwein” (mulled wine), a warmed and spiced red wine from Germany, where temperatures plummet in winter.

The beverage, as well as open-air Christmas markets, has gradually started appearing in Japan.

I tasted a mug of gluhwein at a market stall while visiting Germany in December many years ago. Gulping it down, I felt instantaneously released from the deep freeze.

As Japanese are used to drinking sake hot, the concoction may well catch on here as a kind of “kan-zake” (hot sake).

“Hotto wain” (hot wine) is listed among “kigo” seasonal terms for winter used in haiku poetry, according to a copy of “saijiki” (list of kigo) I have in my hand.

Unfortunately, no example is given of a haiku using hotto wain. But if Japanese embrace hot wine, I could expect to come across a fine haiku with this kigo someday.

Critic and author Shuichi Kato (1919-2008) had insight to characterize Japanese culture as “zasshu bunka” (hybrid culture). The “omnivorous” Japanese have more or less adopted Halloween as their own in recent years.

I am not entirely thrilled by indiscriminate acceptance of anything new and seemingly “cool.” That said, I certainly am not averse to having more things to enjoy looking at, hearing and tasting.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 24

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.