Happy New Year!
We met up in Tokyo with my brother, Paul, and his wife, Vanessa, a couple of days ago and have been having a great time here. We starting on New Year’s Eve by visiting what were meant to be the really crowded, busy intersections in the shopping district–hoping to experience the frenetic pace of life generated by a city with 30+ million people.
When we came up out of the subway, there was nobody there. Almost no cars. Imagine walking up to Times Square and not seeing a soul or car. Now imagine if New York had 3 times as many people, and that is what this was like. The New Year is a very family oriented holiday in Japan, and apparently everyone was home with their families. Lots of people came out later, but the morning was surreal.
For the midnight celebrations, if they’re not home with their families, Japanese people like to go visit a temple. We were worried that this would be as boring as a church service, but our impression was quickly changed when the guy at the entrance sold us big cups of saki for $2 each (yelling out “Saki!” while pouring.) We drank our sakis and had some noodles while taking in the bonfires before the clock struck midnight and everyone cheered before letting go of hundreds of balloons. (Then they rang the bells, which was the only part that felt religious, but I don’t really understand Shinto/Buddism–maybe the Saki was some kind of devotion as well.)
For New Years Day, people like to visit shrines (I don’t now the difference from a temple either, so don’t ask.) This was also very fun, and all of the streets near the shrine we went to were lined with people selling wonderfull street food.
After we lined up to throw some money into the shrine to wish for luck, we sampled some of the food and were eating it by the side of the road. Karen is a little self-conscious of her still-developing chopstick skills and she joked that the people driving by were going to laugh at her from their cars. We thought that was funny until about a minute later, we looked up and this very old woman was pointed at Karen and laughing from the passenger seat of her car. Other people walked by and smiled/waved too. I’m pretty sure they just thought it was funny to see four western tourists eating at the side of the road, but Karen is continuing to work on the chopstick skills.
We leave Paul and Vanessa today as they fly home to Boston before we catch a train to Kyoto. I’ll post some more from there.