Sunday, January 4, 2015

Can't Believe it's 2015

Another year. Wow. Time flies.

I would like to start the new year on a positive note, but, nah.

Let me tell you how New Year's in Japan feels. Personally, I feel like there are three holidays in Japan that get people here really geared up; Valentine's Day, Christmas (Eve) and New Year's. Native Japanese holidays like Children's Day or, I dunno, obon, just don't churn up the same feelings of urgency that the previous three do.

Christmas (Eve), is for couples. It's like a second Valentine's Day in the winter with Santa, KFC and cake. The 24th is the big day, with the 25th playing second fiddle. Which, I can kind of understand. When I was a kid, the night of the 24th was when all the magic'd happen.

The next week, literally, the NEXT. WEEK. is New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that for most Japanese people, the Big Cleaning that takes place before the New Year happens almost as soon as Christmas is over. Thorough people will take this opportunity to clean their homes from top to bottom. You want to get all of that old dust from the old year out and have your place nice and clean to welcome in the New Year.

The 26th of December (Friday), was my last day of work for the year, meaning that I had 5 potential full days of cleaning ahead of me (if I was into that, and I did try!). Not only is there cleaning for them, but nengajo, which are new year's cards (delivered early on the morning of January 1, like a present from a postal Santa) and o-sechi-ryori, which is New Year's food. I went to the basement of a department store on the 31st. The basements of department stores serve as delis/supermarkets/other food related stuff. 

It was like the Black Friday of food shopping. Everyone, and by everyone I mean women, was clamoring over each other for the last scraps of food to complete their o-setchi. There were booths of people screaming about having the last crab legs or last bits of mentaiko (fish egg sacs) and whatnot. 

After you've eaten your toshi-koshi-soba (soba you eat on new year's eve with a wish for a good new year), your family is probably settling into the living room to watch NHK Kouhaku (a really long show of singers) or perhaps some comedy groups do their thing. As it gets closer to the New Year, temples in the area start hitting a gong. I think it's 180 hits. Even until 11:58pm there's no countdown on the TV screens. It's so different from the US. It's like the stations are just trying to charge through everything and hope that they come out alive.

I found one network that had a countdown and did a Happy New Year kind of thing. It was so uneventful. You could have been forgiven for thinking that they just wanted to remind us that it was a new day. Now that it's the new year, the first thing to do is to head down to your neighborhood temple. From what I've been told, any temple is fine. And in any area, you've got your popular temples that have huge lines where people wait hours for their "hatsumode," which is the first visit to the temple of the new year.

At the temple, you'll: toss your money into a large money chest thing (5 yen is ideal), bow twice, clap twice and bow once more...or...clap twice, bow twice and clap once more...err...
The priest (?) will bless you, you'll get some new year's sake and you can go off and buy your o-mamori. Finally between January 1 and 3 you can fight with a bunch of other people (women) for fukubukuro (lucky bags).

Work starts on Monday.

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