Blue Period has a Christmas episode that isn’t really a Christmas episode, but then, surprisingly, is precisely a Christmas episode.
In it, Christmas lasts about two minutes. Just long enough for the art prep school students to bask in the sparkly glory of some strawberry shortcake before the montage skips along to New Year’s Eve. Just long enough too, for supporting character Sae Okada to make a very poignant statement—one that got me thinking about how we engage with this holiday that stands for so much and yet also sometimes, so very little.
“I never thought Christmas was for us,” she says.
This could mean so many things: “I never thought we students who are madly preparing for our entrance exams to the nation’s most prestigious art programs would be allowed to take the time away from assignments to celebrate Christmas.” Or maybe “I never thought about Christmas, it’s not something we observe in my family.”
Or maybe, just maybe, Sae is asking, “Is this really a holiday that Japanese can celebrate?”
Who is Christmas for?
The interesting thing is that this particular episode of Blue Period is devoted to asking another vital question about permission and qualification: who is allowed to be an artist? The students are each asking in their own way, “Is art for me? Am I good enough? Unique enough? Talented and skilled enough? Or is my art just a cheap copy of someone else’s…am I just a cheap copy of someone else?”
Yaguchi faces the harsh reality that he cannot seem to break away from copying, from playing it safe, to the point where he is now even copying himself, trying to repurpose his earlier, freer works into something that will please the judges and satisfy the parameters of the assignment set by his art prep school mentor. She sees right through him though, and pretty soon, to his horror, he sees it too.
Kuwana is also struggling. Beneath her calm exterior, she is battling to escape the long shadow cast by her older sister, who took the world by storm the year of her entrance exams and came in first place in anything and everything. Though she says it with a smile, Kuwana’s heart shatters every time she acknowledges that her art looks like her sister’s. She doesn’t want it to. But she can’t help but see that it does. Everyone speaks only of her sister’s genius when they look at Kuwana’s work.
Meanwhile, Takahashi is desperate to prove that he is worthy of being an artist, to the point of aggressively dismissing anyone (and particularly Yaguchi) who has not made the level of sacrifice or demonstrated the degree of single-minded devotion that he has. Only those without anything else to turn to can be worthy of a life in art. But he protests a little too much. Takahashi is plagued by insecurities and fear.
All three students are in search of their own voice, their own contribution to the world of art, their own place in the world itself. Each is trying to shake off the mounting doubt that art can ever truly be theirs, that it is available to them. Each is on a journey to cast off the expectations they feel so pressured to live up to, be it those set by themselves (Yaguchi and Takahashi) or by others (Kuwana). Each is on a journey of discovery that continues on throughout the series—a journey where they find that they are allowed to celebrate art in their own way, celebrate their own art, and just maybe, celebrate one another too.
They’ve each given their lives to art, and that is enough to qualify them.
“I never thought Christmas was for us.”
Who is Christmas for? Who qualifies? Is it the one who knows the history and meaning behind it all, like Takahashi’s knowledgeable approach to art? Is it the one whose family has celebrated it for generations, like Kuwana’s has done, each generation gaining admittance into the top art schools? Is it the one who discovers it seemingly out of the blue and throws themselves into it with all the enthusiasm of a Labrador puppy, like Yaguchi with his charcoal and paints?
Is Christmas only for those who know that it’s meant to be fruit cake that you eat on Christmas Day and not strawberry shortcake? Is it only for those who know how you’re supposed to decorate a Christmas tree—with balls and stars and candy canes and not with the crosses that a friend of mine once saw on a Christmas tree in a mall in Japan? Is it only for those who honor the true meaning of Christmas? And which true meaning is that exactly?
What even is Christmas?
The truth is, a great many of the traditions we have around Christmas are more so pre-Christian cultural holdovers than practices inspired by scripture. The tree, decorated and lit up, the meal with family, even the date that we celebrate—according to scholarship, Jesus was more likely to have been a September baby—these traditions come from the cultures that already existed before the people who practiced them came to know Christ. Christmas as we know it, even if we’re talking specifically about how it’s celebrated in church and not the wider, secular world, is largely cultural, it’s a product of syncretism between Christianity and European pagan festivals.
Yaguchi explains that the Japanese eat strawberry shortcake at Christmas because white and red are supposedly their favorite colors. It’s a syncretic tradition: a synthesis between Western Christianity and Japanese tastes and aesthetics.
Is this a bad thing?
Historically, the Protestant church has been quite vocal in its opposition to syncretism, viewing it as compromising to the gospel. The Catholic church, less so.
Here’s the thing though: Scripture is full of syncretism, only it calls it by other names—redemption, the family of God, the members of the body, each with its own purpose, the coming of the nations to the mountain of God.
Let me give you an illustration, taken from the sub-title to Psalm 84:
“For the director of music. According to the gittith. Of the Sons of Korah. A psalm.”
The Sons of Korah are incredible lyricists, but that’s not the most exciting part of this little inscription. Nope, it’s the gittith. This was a pagan musical instrument played by the enemies of Israel in worship to their idols and gods. It’s thought to have come from the people of Gath, in Philistine country. As in Goliath. At some point during David’s reign, one of these instruments (maybe more!) made it to the temple of God and into the hands of the musicians, where it became renown enough as an instrument pleasing to God in worship for the lead songwriters of the age, the Sons of Korah, to compose a lyric especially for it—and one that, I might add, has continued to inspire hymnodists, worship leaders, and congregations for thousands of years! (“Better is one day in your courts…“)
What if strawberry shortcake is Japan’s gittith?
What if anime, manga, otome, summer festivals, idols, and even mountaintop shrines are all just waiting to become Japan’s gittith, that is, Japan’s redeemed contribution to the worship of the Lord; the beauty and skill that is uniquely this nation’s to exercise as a member of the body of Christ? To carry with them up to Mount Zion and into the family of God? What if they’re already in the midst of that redemptive transformation, if only we have eyes to see it?
What I’m really asking here, is what if the gospel allows for people to retain their culture and instead of replacing it with something more familiar to established Christians, redeems it, washing it clean in the way that Gaheret recently wrote about, and restoring it to the original purpose for which God inspired its creation in the first place?
Because it is God and not the enemy who is Creator and thus creative. It is God who is the source of every good gift and every form of beauty. God is the original cultural architect. And he still has the blueprints; he still has a heart to see his creation redeemed, every last musical instrument, every last work of art and even each recipe. (Remember the raisin cakes! Those delicious delicacies that could lead men astray from the Lord, or symbolize their deep love for him, depending on the heart of the diner…compare Hosea 3:1 and Song of Songs 2:5.)
God is already present in Japan and always has been. He is at work throughout Japanese history and culture.
Yaguchi is able to recognize and affirm to Kuwana what it is that she brings to art that no one else can. What if we, as Christians, were to celebrate other cultures and Christian traditions in this same way?
So what if strawberry shortcake is just as much Christmas as fruit cake? And what if Japan has its own unique offering to bring to the Christmas table, to enrich it, beautify it, and thereby put on display the awesome redemptive heart of the Father?
“I never thought Christmas was for us.”
Sae—you dear, earnest supporting character with the cute bowl cut—it is. Christmas is most definitely for you.
Blue Period can be streamed on Netflix.
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15 thoughts on “12 Days of Christmas Anime, Day 2: Blue Period Asks, Whose Christmas is it Anyway?”
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Wow! What a beautiful article. It really resonated with me. Indeed God is the creator, the one who makes creativity possible, and redeems the broken aspects of our culture for his glory.
Thank you so much and Amen! I like your way of phrasing it, “the one who makes creativity possible” — so good! Makes me realise that he didn’t need to make us with the capacity for creativity…wow, what a gift that he did!!
Another wonderful piece, Claire! As an artist myself I have really enjoyed reading Blue Period and glad it got made into an anime where many can share it.
“What if anime, manga, otome, summer festivals, idols, and even mountaintop shrines are all just waiting to become Japan’s gittith, that is, Japan’s redeemed contribution to the worship of the Lord; the beauty and skill that is uniquely this nation’s to exercise as a member of the body of Christ? To carry with them up to Mount Zion and into the family of God? What if they’re already in the midst of that redemptive transformation, if only we have eyes to see it?”
And God, for His own inscrutable and likely comedic reasons seems to love speaking through Japanese culture at this point in history. I used to think it was just for me, because that is where I was paying the most attention. His private way of saying “Hi there, dear, I’m hiding here too!”
Now I am more convinced of something much bigger. Too many people are being impacted by anime and manga in positive ways who would be completely closed off from hearing the same message put in Biblical terms (or any other formal religion). Message of love, acceptance, the importance of friendship, redeeming your enemies, having faith, the power of the most humble, and so much more. It’s a worldwide phenomenon.
It’s as if God knows His children so well, has never stopped talking, has never stopped storytelling, and never stopped adapting to His audience. He speaks through nature, most would already agree. But he can speak through those creative people with good intentions and open hearts. Remember that (and I don’t know chapter/verse) “God has many that the church does not have” or something to that effect.
I experience God as super creative, playful, humorous, and always way cooler, kinder, and more fascinating than anyone has dared to dream. I believe God is a geek and a connoisseur of culture, from elegant block prints and kimonos, to Yuru Camp and Non Non Biyori! Wherever there is beauty and sweetness, you can be sure that His signature is there, through inspiration, indwelling, or whatever wonderful mechanism God employs.
The Spirit of Christmas is one of His most revealing masks and most certainly for everyone!
Yes, yes and Yes! So good! I love what you’re saying here and how you draw out God’s humorous, geeky side! I totally agree. And that there is something pretty special going on at this moment in history re: God revealing himself through Japanese culture.
As an artist, you’ve probably already come across Makoto Fujimura’s work and writing? If not, I highly, highly recommend his books, especially _Silence and Beauty_, but also _Art + Faith_ and _Culture Care_. The first one in particular really confirmed for me what you mention here, about how it isn’t just a wink and shared smile from God to one or two of us, but actually a pretty significant, creative, grace-filled “new thing” that he is doing through anime and manga and other Japanese artistic forms! It’s really quite exciting. 😀
Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Oh yes, I definitely know Makoto! I even have his beautiful “The Four Holy Gospels” in my collection. I’m glad you’ve read him too. He’s often just preaching to the choir in someone like me, but I love that he’s trying to reach out to the more shall we say “rigid” folks out there who are resistant to art and beauty in a spiritual context.
I am wishing you and your loved ones a joyous Christmas!
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Great post! And a simple anime Christmas episode suddenly became so deep! Very thought provoking.
Thank you so much! So glad it resonated. It’s such an inspiring series!
This was such a moving and thought-provoking piece, Claire! It gave me goosebumps and made me teary-eyed! Thank you for sharing! (Also, about the gittith was SO cool! I didn’t know that and love how you expounded on that! <3)
Aw, I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Laura! Yes, I first heard about the gittith, must be like twelve years ago now, and it struck me powerfully then and has stayed with me ever since — such a beautiful image of God’s heart toward culture and the nations!
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