[From December Issue 2013]
“It was pure chance that I became a Santa Claus,” says Paradise YAMAMOTO. Paradise is the only Japanese Santa Claus recognized by the Greenland World Santa Claus Congress. At Christmas time, he visits children who are unable to go home at children’s hospitals and care homes.
In his real job, Paradise is a Latin music musician. In 1998, out of the blue, an acquaintance asked him, “Do you weigh more than 120 kilos?” When he answered, “Perhaps, but just barely,” he was asked, “You’ve been a Santa Claus, too, haven’t you?” Paradise had worn a Santa Claus costume for his live shows and events at kindergartens. So when he answered “Yes, I suppose so,” he was told, “Then, for God’s sake, go to Denmark.”
Paradise went to the headquarters of the association, took an exam and passed it to become an authorized Santa Claus. For the first few years, however, he worried about whether he should continue as an authorized Santa Claus. He receives no money whatsoever from the association and it’s forbidden to give out “letters from Santa Claus” in exchange for money. He also has to go to the association every year at his own expense to attend the The World Santa Claus Congress. “On top of all that, you have to be dressed as Santa Claus when travelling between your home and Denmark. It’s physically demanding in the middle of summer,” Paradise smiles wryly.
His wife said to him, “If it’s that hard and you want to quit, why don’t you quit?” He understood however that she was giving him a push. “If I quit now, the past few years would be meaningless,” he reasoned.
Paradise had an unforgettable experience. “When I visited a care home, I met a child who usually spoke to no one. That child spoke to me of all people. The staff at the home were surprised and said, ‘That’s the first time we’ve heard that child’s voice.’ It’s this kind of thing that makes me think it was worth it despite my doubts.”
Paradise is from Hokkaido. “When I was small, there were footsteps in the snow outside the window on Christmas morning. My parents not only left presents, but also orchestrated that kind of thing. As a child, I would jump around with excitement crying, ‘Santa Claus came from that direction!’ I gave my parents trouble as a high school student, but when I remembered those Christmas days, I sensed their love and decided to do the same thing myself for children. I think I learned about parental values from Santa Claus.”
Paradise isn’t happy about the general perception of Santa Claus in Japan today. “Japanese children take it for granted that they’ll receive expensive presents from Santa Claus. I feel sad when I hear a child say ‘I’m going to get a game console for Christmas and buy software for it with my otoshidama (money given as a gift to children at New Year).” I’d rather they experience a dramatic Christmas that brings the family closer together.”
Text: SAZAKI Ryo