For many bicultural Member families, the Club provides a “taste of home” during the holidays.
For families with more than one cultural background, the holiday season in Japan can be a challenge.
While Christmas is one of the most important days on the calendar in the United States, it’s just another working day in Japan, where New Year’s reigns supreme.
For expats, being away from extended family and the traditions that make Christmas special can feel isolating. As the Club kicks off another season of memorable holiday moments, with Santa visits, turkey spreads and entertainment all lined up, both clubhouses will be festive hubs for hundreds of Members and their guests.
For Ruriko and Nicholas Vitalis, the Club’s end-of-year celebrations begin with Halloween and Thanksgiving. Members for more than a decade, they bring their children, 7-year-old twins Julianna and Emilio and 5-year-old Lily-Charlotte, to enjoy trick-or-treat fun and traditional turkey as a curtain-raiser to the revelry to come. They’re especially keen on the Family Christmas Show, which this year sees comedy duo Gabez return to put their own spin on the story of Peter Pan.
Originally from New York and an on-and-off resident of Japan for about 20 years, Nicholas says he is always impressed with the atmosphere around the Club during the holiday period.
“Mood-wise, it makes you feel like you’re really not in Japan,” he says. “It’s a completely different environment for kids. It feels and smells like America. Everyone speaks English. At Rainbow Café, kids are running around. It’s joyous and everyone is lighthearted.”
The Club also honors the oshogatsu traditions of New Year’s in Japan, placing bamboo and pine kadomatsu decorations at the entrances and offering its own gourmet osechi sets for Members to enjoy on the first day of the year.
“The sequence of events gives you a warm feeling of connectedness and the spirit of the season,” Nicholas says.
Following the pandemic, with its stay-at-home orders and social distancing, Members have been keen to reembrace seasonal traditions and celebrations at the Club.
“I think in the past few years, with Covid, it became the go-to place,” he says. “Being at the Club became a no-brainer.”
For the family of Mayako and Kevin Quinn, who describe themselves as heavy Club users, the Family Christmas Show in early December marks the unofficial start to the holidays. Their two daughters always enjoy the annual extravaganza of entertainment, even though 12-year-old Yuriya says she only continues to go to please her 7-year-old kid sister, Meiya.
In the latter part of December, the family travels to the San Francisco Bay Area, where Kevin grew up, to celebrate Christmas with his family. After endless servings of holiday staples, they return to Japan for toshikoshi soba and other New Year traditions with Mayako’s family in Kawasaki.
Image (right): (l–r) Yuriya, Kevin and Meiya Quinn with Santa at the Club
“I’ve never really considered the need for cultural balance, but the kids get everything—presents from both families and toshidama [New Year’s money]. They get the best of both worlds,” says Kevin, a 20-year Japan resident. “Running a company can be stressful, so it’s the one time of year when I can kick back and enjoy things. I love seeing the kids being happy, getting so many presents and getting to spend time with extended family in the US and Japan.”
Siri and Chris Pittaway also honor different year-end traditions: those of Britain and Thailand. Raised in Bangkok, Siri runs a Thai cooking school from home.
On December 1, their apartment is decked with a Christmas tree, lights and decorations, offering Siri’s culinary students a festive welcome. The couple has even hosted Christmas parties for students at the Club, with one year’s event featuring Thai kickboxers.
While their three children attend Japanese school, they speak English at home and learn about Thai culture from their mother and during annual New Year’s trips to Thailand.
“Thailand is Buddhist, so we don’t celebrate Christmas, but we get together with family on January 1 and maybe go to the temple,” Siri says. “We also celebrate New Year’s on April 13 with the Songkran holiday. And we have Chinese New Year in February because we have many Chinese people, so there are three New Years in Thailand.”
Regulars at the Family Christmas Show since 2015, Arun, 14, Arin, 12, and Aran, 10, are also enamored with the Club’s other key cultural celebrations throughout the year.
“Our kids love the Halloween and Easter events at the Club, and we always go to the Christmas Show,” says Chris, a Member for 24 years. “When you have children, especially younger ones, the Club is a very easy destination.”
Family Christmas Show
December 9 & 10 | 12–2pm & 5–7pm
Words: Tim Hornyak
Top Image (l–r) Ruriko, Lily-Charlotte, Emilio, Julianna and Nicholas Vitalis: Kayo Yamawaki