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The end of the year comes and everything slows down and speeds up at the same time.

All the expats are heading home for the holidays and two of the project teams have completed their assignments and disbanded, so it's very quiet in the office now.

We've had two year-end parties, called bonenkai. One was a party for IT and the team of people who effected the move to the new building. We got together on a cruise ship and sailed around Tokyo Bay while we ate drank and chitchatted with coworkers. A few of us were lucky enough to be on the upper deck in the bracing wind when Tokyo Disneyland set off its nightly fireworks.

Our second bonenkai was for the entire 900 person Tokyo office. It was a fancy party with good food, a dance contest, some silly games and lots of beautiful dresses and tuxedoes. I wore my best office dress. Rather sad, but there just isn't alot of option in my wardrobe.

Our friend, Roman, rented a kimono. A most impressive costume, but he was uncomfortable in the tightly bound layers and within an hour or two, he'd changed into western clothes.

Christmas is not an official holiday here--we get the Emperor's birthday on 23 December and New Year's Day. Which is fine by me. I'll also take the 21st as a holiday to celebrate the first day of Winter (and my parents' anniversary!).

Christmas here is a commercial concept even if it isn't an official holiday.

It's promotion city--stores are decorated with pine trees and lighted Santas. The Christmas tradition seems to be not to give presents (that comes at the new year) but to have a cake.

And there is a standard Christmas cake--nothing like our Christmas fruit cake or even like normal Japanese cake which looks and tastes a lot like sweetened bread. The Christmas cake is a western-style, two layer cake. It's either vanilla or chocolate with white icing, topped with fresh strawberries (ichigo) and a chocolate decoration that says Merry Christmas. You can get them everwhere--from fancy bakeries to convenience stores.

Even though there's no Santa in Japan and I didn't wish for anything special, I got some great gifts. Tod bought me a cache of American convenience foods--an Old El Paso taco kit, a jar of Classico pasta sauce, Jelly Bellies. I hadn't realised that I missed them, but I had and it's really nice to have them again.

Because we're missing "home foods" as one of our Indian coworkers refers to them, our holiday feasts this year have been a bit strange. Christmas dinner was a pizza which I ordered in Japanese. On New Year's Eve we demolished the tacos.

In return for the food and a funky blue hat, Tod recieved some stylish headphones and a stuffed elephant, Zou, who is our substitute cat. Zou has a great personality!

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