Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

In Japan, New Year’s Day is a big deal. I’d compare it to the American Christmas, when a lot of businesses are closed and a lot of people go home to visit their families. In fact, lots of people send out nengajou, or new year cards, which operate basically like your standard American Christmas card, notifying the recipient that you are still alive and well, despite not having seen (or perhaps spoken to) them for quite some time. I myself adopted this custom, a bit imperfectly, to my holiday season. I mailed haphazardly and late, so if you didn’t get one and you think you deserved one, make sure I have your address and maybe you’ll see something at Asian New Year time, which this year falls in mid-February.

Yeah. I have every reasonable excuse to procrastinate.

I rang in 2010 at Zoujoji, near Tokyo Tower. Having flown from America on the 30th, I am still pretty jet-lagged, but I have to say this has been a very good New Year’s Eve indeed! I’ve been staying with a college friend and his parents, and we’ll be taking the train down to Osaka tomorrow for some sightseeing there. I traveled with this same friend to Spain back in the spring of 2006, so I kind of already know the modus operandi for them. I’ll call him The Doctor.

I also got to see four other Vandy friends since landing in the late afternoon of the 30th, all of them previous residents of the language dorm where I spent several years. I felt like such a jet-setter, sitting on the monorail, passing under Rainbow Bridge just hours after landing at Narita. I collected my stuff, coursed through customs, and shipped my large bags home like a pro. Seriously, I had two bags both pushing 50lbs, and the total cost to take them off my hands and deliver them safely to my door in Shiso was 3600 yen.

You’re not in MarioKart, you’re in Japan, but it’s pretty much the same thing.

I didn’t feel like such a jet-setter when I was falling asleep at the table as the clock struck ten, but there’s only so much you can expect from one who recently underwent a time-travel like that. I had a good time seeing my friends, though. I severely underestimated the time it takes to subway across Tokyo and got in pretty late (okay like 11:30, but when your brain suspects that to be 9:30am, that’s pretty late), but it was no matter because The Doctor and I slept til 9.

Vandy reunion in Tokyo. <3

More Vandy kids, including your very travel-tastic heroine, at unusual levels of unwashed.

We walked around Daiba the morning of the 30th and glanced in some of the local malls, looking to make drag queens of ourselves on purikura machines. Went to see Cirque du Soleil ZED near Tokyo Disney, which was absolutely magnificent (that is to say, I sat there staring, with my mouth hanging open for most of the show). Delicious shabu-shabu dinner, and off to Zoujoji for the countdown.


O, Daiba.

Because there's a Statue of Liberty. And the Rainbow bridge is white by day.

Ostensibly a photo of The Doctor. Actually about those dogs in tracksuits.

We pass through an area associated with Tokyo Disney along the way...

Almost had "lunch" at Sweets Paradise. This photo is like.. a perfect moment captures on film. All you can eat sweets buffet, fountain, small Japanese children playing in a fountain.

We seemed to be enjoying quite a bit of good timing, as we got up to the temple steps just as some young people that looked like Boy Scouts were bringing torches out of the temple to light the fires. I think they were for burning last year’s fortunes.

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We went inside the temple and I got to toss in a fiver and make a new year’s wish; shortly thereafter, all visitors were ushered outside the temple. We managed to use an exit that not many were using (as most people seemed to be trying to use the entrance instead), which led us out around the back of the temple, where there was room to breathe and a great view of Tokyo Tower. We explored this virtually deserted area a bit more before going back out front. They were pounding mochi there, under the light of the full moon (and a bunch of lamps too). Lots of ‘carnival food’ stands. The Doctor finally found a place to buy some mochi, and we got close to the bell outbuilding to await the coming year.

Mochi. Way more delicious than it looks here.

omg Zojoji! You can see the temple main building, the tower, and lots of balloons.

Two Vandy friends found us there and we waited as the crowd pressed closer still, many of them toting one of the special 3,000 balloons to be released upon the turning of the year. The temple monks began to chant and perform the rituals for the closing of 2009, and Tokyo Tower went dark. As midnight approached, the tower began to sparkle and flash, and at midnight, the crowd erupted into cheers, the tower burst into light, a ton of balloons were released into the air, and the monks began the tolling of the bell. At the New Year, they toll it 108 times to purify the 108 sins of humans.

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After all that, we aimed for the entrance. The Doctor used his NYC-life skillz of crowd-press navigation to get us through to the entrance, which is impressive, especially because we were packed so close to those around us, it really felt like one had no real choice on one’s speed or direction of progress.

Vandy kids ring in the New Year.

We made it out in unexpectedly good time, and took a taxi to the nearby metro station, and wishing everyone a very akemashite omedetou gozaimasu, we were free to sleep.

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