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Ticket pic of the week: Santa's helpers in Japan

December 11, 2010 |  7:00 am

A class of Santa Clauses in Tokyo

One mid-December a good while ago, we interviewed a class of rambunctious Japanese youngsters about a famous person who was scheduled to make a long trip to visit their home soon.

In unison, they replied, "Grandpa!"

And what was the holiday occasion? "New Years!"

After a little prodding about the visitor wearing a brightly-colored suit, the group realized we were asking about the hamburger mascot, who is called Donald McDonald in Japan.

After a hint about delivering gifts in a red suit, many began recalling something about this Santa Claus fellow. "Where did Santa Claus live?" we asked. That wasn't anything they'd ever thought about. But after some discussion the class consensus was on the other side of China, maybe in Thailand.

Was Santa Claus an old man? Well, they were asleep when he slid open the door to visit their homes, but they didn't think so. Was Santa Claus fat, like a sumo wrestler? No, they said, why?

What did Santa Claus do the rest of the year, make all the gifts at home with helpers? They laughed at such a ridiculous notion. No, he was occupied year round buying gifts for every Japanese child. Where'd he get the money to buy so many gifts? From the Japanese government.

What about children in other countries? Did Santa Claus take gifts to them too? Heads shook. Then shrugs all around. Those other kids were on their own.

So, when exactly did this foreign gift-giver make his annual rounds of Japan? Blank faces. Was there a particular day in the 12th month that Claus-san came to visit? Silence.

Then, one precocious little girl figured it out. "He comes on the last Sunday in December," she declared, "and this year it's the 25th."

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-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo: Itsuo Inouye / Associated Press (a Tokyo class of graduating store Santas goes for a walk).