One of the most interesting ways to learn more about another culture is to spend Christmas or another festive time in the other country.
I’ve now spent two Christmases in Indonesia and am heading into my 7th in Japan, and they are very different experiences to back home in Australia.
The first thing that strikes you about a Japanese Christmas is the fact that you have to go to work.
On my first Christmas Day in Japan, I had a job interview. Exactly seven years later, the shoe is on the other foot and I'm scheduled to conduct a job interview this coming Christmas Day while you tuck into your seafood BBQ, roast turkey or your meal of choice.
Some people do call the Japanese Christmas ‘Japan's Valentine's Day’ because it is considered a time for couples to get romantic.
Christmas Eve in Japan is spent with your partner. If you don't have one, you’re best advised to stay at home because it's difficult to get a table at a decent restaurant as they're filled with lovebirds and very Christmas-like cheer.
I'm not sure that the moniker ‘Japan's Valentine's Day’ is all that appropriate either, given that Japan already celebrates two other Valentine's Days, thanks to some very clever collective marketing ploys.
Speaking of clever marketing ploys, a casual visitor to Japan on Christmas Day might be surprised to see the massive queues out the front of KFC shops on Christmas Day.
Such is the demand for those 11 secret herbs and spices on December 25th that KFC shops fry in bulk beforehand, and sell the cold fried chicken from tables set up out the front of the shop.
For those Romeos who weren't clever enough to book their romantic restaurant six weeks in advance for Christmas Eve, the next best option is to pick up some KFC, take it home with your date, and heat it up in the microwave. It's just so romantic.
Why is KFC so popular in Japan on Christmas Day?
Just like Coca-Cola changed Saint Nicholas’ outfit from green to red to sell more soda many years ago, and just like Hallmark hijacked St Valentine to sell more cards, KFC has managed to convince Japan that it's "just the thing to do" at Christmas time.
How did they do this? I'm not sure, but every Christmas season I have several conversations with a group of Japanese friends where I have to explain to them that Americans – and therefore, Australians and the British as they don't see us that much differently – don’t actually have a tradition of eating KFC on Christmas Day. They are quite surprised to find out that this happens only in Japan.
One thing I really like about Japanese Christmas is what they call 'illumination'. This is fairy lights on steroids.
Local governments, department stores and other shopping centres go all out to set up some really impressive Christmas lighting displays. These are really worth spending some time visiting and, best of all, they're absolutely free. But be warned: they are also a popular destination for romantic couples on the third Valentine's Day of the Japanese calendar - so they can get very crowded too.
There are many things I like about living in Japan but, when it comes to Christmas, I'd much prefer to spend the day with my family at a BBQ in the backyard under a blue Aussie sky. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to have ten days off work last year but this year I must remain here.
Best wishes to everyone for a happy festive season ... and Valentine's Day!