“and everybody goes”

Date: 12/31   –   1/1

Location: 増上寺   –   浅草   –   渋谷

~ ~ あけましておめでとう!今年も宜しく!~ ~

Happy 2012, everybody! :D I hope everyone got to spend midnight with people you like and didn’t have too big of a hangover on New Year’s Day. How did I spend my new year? Well, we’ll split this into three sections.

~ ~ Part 1: The  wind-up ~ ~

Nicola’s mom had fixed a fantastic New Year’s Eve dinner of sukiyaki which was dericious beyond belief and followed up by chocolate cake and red-bean taiyaki. [After a few hours of chilling in the living room and waiting out the food coma by watching 笑ってはいけない.] At around 22:50 we set out for 増上寺 which we heard has a New Year’s countdown in which three thousand-ish people get to write their wishes on balloons which are subsequently set off into the air at midnight. We didn’t care too much about the wishing part [mostly because that required being at the temple at around 20:30, but we definitely wanted to be there for the countdown. We decided to ditch the club because it was going to be crowded and expensive and at least at the temple it would only be crowded. Also, while talking about the clubs, I heard that there is a movement to shut down most/all the clubs in Tokyo. In order to remedy this, there are times when the club will turn on all the lights, shut off all the music, and provide seats and tables in order to instantly convert into a bar. I thought that was amusing.

New Year’s Eve in Japan is usually a holiday in which people stay at home. And when we got to the temple, I could tell why that is. It was seriously packed. Once you got in the main gates, it was back to front to back crowds all the way up until the main temple building. And it wasn’t even just uncomfortable standing around. There were people pushing all over the place trying to get a better view of Tokyo Tower. The pushing was mostly because of an inconveniently placed tree that effectively blocked the view for about half the crowd. I have never ever seen a tree so hated, lol.

But yes, everyone was trying to push to get a view of the tower and things got pretty intense. There were literally waves of people as the people near the back and the right [under the offending tree] tried to make their way to the front left. I got knocked off balance a few times, but it didn’t even matter because everyone was so tightly packed that I couldn’t have fallen if I wanted to. In Tagalog, there’s the expression “hindi na mahulog ang karayom,” aka so packed that not even a needle can fall through. That pretty much described it. At one point, I was caught in a wave pushing towards the left, and the crowd-sea slammed into the side of a building wherein the outer shutters caved in. Yeah. Intense. There was lots of shouting and some English guy was screaming stupid things and grinding all up in my backside, but I came out of it mostly alive. Speaking of shouting, for every crowd of drunk 外人 being stupid and inebriated, there was another disapproving cluster of 日本人 saying, and I distinctly remember hearing this, 「こんなイベントでは外人はダメ。」”Foreigners shouldn’t be allowed at things like this.” And I can understand where they’re coming from, but I feel like they fail to see the several hundred equally as loud and possibly as drunk Japanese people interspersed in the crowd. Stop making flash judgments. [To include the assumption that foreigners can’t understand when you talk bout them.] Jesus. Anyway, everybody counted down backwards in Japanese and the balloons were released. I couldn’t really get a good photo of them, but Marisa has a pretty good video of the whole thing. It was really pretty and Tokyo Tower, which you could see from behind the temple was all lit up and awesome.

~ ~ Part 2: New Year’s Day ~ ~

Directly after the balloon-release, 初詣 started. Hatsumode is the first shrine or temple visit of the year in which you pray for good luck in the year to come. Nicola did her first one at 増上寺 where we were, and we strolled around the grounds which were set up for a festival. There were vendors selling all sorts of traditional Japanese festival foods and a huge fire sending up wishes written on wood and old good-luck charms from the previous year. People were pounding New-Year mochi and we actually got to taste some. [Surprise, it tasted like rice -_-;;] And we also pulled おみくじ or the fortune telling slips that divine your luck for the future.

The same deal went down at our second shrine of the night, Sensoji in Asakusa. We arrived around 4 in the morning and it was still bustling, though not as crowded as the previous temple [thank Jebus]. They had pretty much the same festival fare and I pulled another omikuji, reaffirming my luck forecast for the near future as 吉, or just good, which I’m fine with.

We headed back to Nicola’s afterwards and fell asleep almost immediately. I didn’t wake up until around 1 PM the next day and I woke up to finger sandwiches and freshly made scones which were probably the best I have ever had in my entire life. Nicola’s mom, you are amazing. Mother nature decided to be stupid though, and give me and the rest of the 関東 region a 初地震 of the new year. Nicola noticed that Julia’s orange juice was moving, and then the whole house started to move and everything was clattering and earthquake-y. It just so happened that 地震を経験するのは始めて so it was a little shocking. It wasn’t too strong, so it wasn’t scary, but feeling the earth move under you is really crazy. After bidding a fond farewell to Nicola and her family, Julia went back to Osaka, and Marisa and I headed back towards different hostels.

~ ~ Part 3:  The Aftermath ~ ~

On January 2nd, after everybody’s done celebrating with their families, it’s time to SHOP. The picture up there pretty much describes all of Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Harajuku in the first few days of the new year. MAD HECTIC STOREs. Everywhere. All the big department stores and most other stores have sales starting that day and all of Tokyo was out in full force to take advantage. Of course, I targeted Book-off, who was having a half-price time sale on all of their stuff, so I contributed my fair share to the Japanese economy. The other stores didn’t slash their prices quite enough for me to want to buy their clothes, so I refrained and just watched the madness unfold.

Another New Year’s store tradition is 福袋 [fukubukuro] (n.) Literally, “lucky bag,” a bag filled with goods sold at a prace that is a fraction of MSRP. I couldn’t find one that I felt comfortable spending 30 dollars+ on so I passed. In fact, I didn’t really buy anything but books. As far as clothes are concerned at least, I realized that America is actually really cheap if you know where to shop. Nice try, Uniqlo, but you’re gonna have to try a little harder if you want me to buy one pair heat-tech underwear for $15.

Afterwards, I did another 初詣 by myself. This time, to Meiji Jingu shrine in Yoyogi Park. This is a shrine dedicated to the Meiji Emperor who basically brought Japan from a feudal society to a nation in the ring with those of the West. On the path up to the temple, the signs made sure you knew about it. Anyway, it was crowded crowded crowded here as well and I feel like you can’t escape that with New Year’s in Japan, especially in Tokyo.

At Meiji Jingu, they have the traditional offertory box, except it was now an offertory tarp where people would throw money in the direction of the box and  it would fall on the tarp to be collected later. It may look like dirt on the ground, but it’s actually piles and piles of coins that only got bigger as wave after wave of people just lined up to throw money at a box. [And pray for the new year, of course]. I heard a couple next to me joking around: 「まあ、振込みしたほうがいいかもね。」 “Maybe we should have done a bank transfer.” Luls.

Afterwards, some more fruitless shopping, and a million pictures of the Shibuya crossing. It’s my last night in the hostel, and tomorrow night, I’m headed back to Osaka for to catch a slow boat to [Korea]. We’ll see how that goes, lol.

For now, though, I hope everyone’s enjoying their 2012 so far. I know I am. :D

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