A few years ago, before I ever came to Tokyo a friend of mine (who, as an aside is now quite well known in Bollywood…..another story entirely;-), told me that a friend of a friend had once seen a window display in a Tokyo department store that was, to say the least, odd.
The Japanese, for the most part not being Christians, had gotten the Christmas story a little mixed up, and had built a display of a crucified Santa Claus.
Given the prevalence of ‘engrish’ and cultural misunderstandings, it seemed like a completely believable story. I was just annoyed that I hadn’t been there to get photographic evidence.
It turned out that this story was quite a famous urban myth, with several variations.
Some said it occurred ‘just after World War II’, some that it was ‘just a few years ago’ and the location and size of the effigy varied from Kyoto to Tokyo, from huge to tiny.
To be honest I was a little disappointed, I had so wanted it to be real.
Anyway, a few years after hearing the story I found myself back in my home town in England for an extended period over one Christmas. I was bored, there was nothing to photograph of much interest and street photography would have been taking my life into my hands, given the predilection to violence the young men of my home town show, even at the season of good will to all men.
It occurred to me that the crucified Santa image would be quite an interesting comment on the rampant consumer festival that Christmas had become, so far divorced from jesus’s birthday or the more ancient pagan origins of a festival at the winter solstice.
So, after a few days preparation with photoshop and my fathers printer I set out a few nights before Christmas and pasted up about 30 of my Christmas card to the community all around the town.
Over the next few days before Christmas I wandered around in the town, smiling everytime I saw a mother dragging her child away from the picture in disgust or an old ladys face wrinkle into a disturbed frown as she noticed my Christmas message out of the corner of her eye and stopped in her tracks to get a better look and become more offended.
Some of the paste ups people had tried to pull down or remove, but I had used good strong glue to attach them and most were almost impossible to remove.
I wondered how many people would get past their shock and think about what my Christmas gift was meant to say.
The highlight of my campaign was being in a pub that Christmas eve and overhearing a group of people discussing the crucified Santa some of them had seen all around town.
Some of them were genuinely offended, upset that someone hooligan would abuse the poor little children at Christmas with such a horrible depiction of dear Santa, but others seemed to get it and were trying to explain to the indignant ones that they thought it was an interesting comment on what Christmas had become.
I smiled quietly to myself.
“my work here is done”, I thought.
And so, I present this image as a Christmas greeting from me to you.
To all the haters I say, forgive me as Santa of Nazareth would do and worry ye not, for by easter when he is resurrected the little children stuffing their faces with overpriced chocolate eggs will have forgotten completely about the strange picture they saw of Father Christmas.
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