Found in Translation

Tokyo - Every Christmas, Seiji Makino used to dread facing up to his three children whose questions about Santa Claus would leave him blank.

But this year Makino and other Japanese who want to be able to bellow out a perfect "Ho, ho, ho" are getting help in the form of professional training by the country's only "certified" Santa Claus.

"I saw in a kids' magazine that cookies and a cup of hot chocolate were placed under the Christmas tree but I didn't know why," said Makino, 38.

Now Makino knows the answer: because kids welcome Santa with a snack for his delivering the presents.

His learning process required him to dress up in a red and white costume and stocking cap and to put on a white beard as he joined 40 other people - mostly Father Christmases but also a few Mother Christmases - in two hours of nuts and bolts training in the ways of Santa.

In a country famed for its perfectionist work ethic, the Santa students have a teacher with top credentials: Paradise Yamamoto, the only Japanese with a degree from the International Association of Authorized Santa Clauses based in Greenland.

Plump with rosy cheeks, Yamamoto is better known as one of Japan's top mambo musicians, but became authorised as Santa Claus after passing a competitive test in Greenland.

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