Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2013--A Very Japanese New Year

This is the first time I've spent New Years in Japan, and I took it upon myself to make it the most Japanese New Year ever.

To start the festivities, I had a New Year's Eve gathering at my place which was an unexpectedly tricky experience with a dog and a newly acquired hakata ningyo and little table space.

Nonetheless, the ghetto-ness of it all made it work and there was enough food to tide our appetites until we went to an izakaya after.

The potluck itself was early--we gathered around 4--because I figured it'd be better to get to our main destination before the rest of the crowds did.

And where did we go?

None other than Meiji Jingu, one of the most popular spots for hatsumode.

Every time I mentioned I was going to Meiji Jingu for hatsumode, I got a look of disbelief from my coworkers.

"It'll be crowded, you know," I was warned over and over again. "It isn't worth the trouble."

On the other side of the spectrum, after a look of disbelief, I was also told, "You're more Japanese than the Japanese!"

So we braved the ride over to Harajuku.

When we got there, we still had a few more hours to explore, so we went to go and reserve a place at an izakaya before going in to Meiji Jingu.

As you can see, there were plenty of other interesting personalities going to pay their respects at Meiji Jingu.

The shrine, already beautiful on a normal day, was especially decked out for New Year's Eve.

Unbeknownst to me, hatsumode seems to be exclusively for ① tourists and ② couples. While me and my group of friends waited, shivering in the cold while getting jostled by the crowd, many couples were snuggled together.

Perfect way to start the new year with some PDA, right?

Sarcasm aside, we were still very lucky to get into the shrine relatively "early." The wait from midnight took about 30 minutes to get to the very front of the line.

In front of the actual shrine, people traditionally toss some coins (5-10 yen), but New Years was special.

Small single coins clearly weren't enough for some Japanese people. As I joined the crowd in front of the shrine, I saw a burst of light and suddenly a shower of coins as people literally tossed fistfuls of money as an offering.

Celebrating new years didn't end with that though. On January 2nd, I braved the crowds again--this time to see the Emperor of Japan, Emperor Akihito.

The Imperial Palace is only open to the general public on two days of the year--his Imperial Majesty's birthday and on January 2nd for a New Year's greeting to his people. I had considered going on his birthday, but somehow seeing the Emperor of Japan over the New Year seemed more epic.

I wasn't the only one as I was pressed against thousands of other people who had the same idea in mind.

I waited in anticipation with Ryosuke (and technically Jay, but we lost him in the crowd) for about an hour. When the Emperor emerged with his family, people began to wave their flags (which were passed out to people walking in) wildly and cheering.

Despite the wait, the Emperor only spoke for less than a minute before retreating back behind the sliding doors and shades.

Although I am proud to say that I have had a very Japanese new year, I think I both the hatsumode and seeing the Emperor are both one-time events. It was fun, the all the crowding, pushing and shoving is not something an older me can handle, haha.

It was a certainly festive way to start out 2013 though, so although a bit belated--

Happy new year and all the best to you in 2013!!

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