Gaijin Meet Japan – Happy New Year in Tokyo!
This is the third episode of the adventure of Oleñka and Cédric. They spent the New Year´s Eve with the Okimori family. It´s one of the most traditional and magical moment of Japan during the year.
Chapter II – Happy New Year in Tokyo!
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As we mentioned in the previous episode, Cédric and I decided to start our Asian journey in Tokyo.
Since many years, I have a list of cities and places where I´ve dreamed about myself spending the New Year´s Eve since when I lived in Venezuela. London, Paris, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Machu Picchu, Roraima, New York, Tokyo… So, when we started to see the date for our journey, we decided to take advantage of getting rid of Tokyo from the list J.
In Venezuela, the New Year´s Eve celebration is full of different traditions depending on the family and the geographic location of the country; as well as eating grapes with the 12 bells like Spanish people do, in each Venezuelan family has something original to do, to drink, to dress or to say on that day. I told this to my friend, Hitomitsu; as much as Cédric, I expected to celebrate this night as a Japanese and we wanted to follow all traditional things our host family would do.
We arrived at Haneda on the 30th of December and from the moment we picked up the backpack from the belt conveyor, we began to live the traditions. It wasn´t even ten o´clock in the morning, and we were already surrounding a low table on the tatami mat to eat an exquisite hotpot with clams and other seafood. After earing and having a nice walk around Saitama, we stopped at a public bath to relax our body and at the same time to get rid of all the toxins we accumulated during the year. When we came home, the dinner was ready, today we had Sekihan (赤飯), sticky and sweet rice that Japanese people tend to eat for festivals or family celebrations. Being defeated by jetlag and having a few small cups of sake while we watched TV with the family, we fell asleep.
On the 31st we got up early, we had decided to make a round trip of the temples for the last day of the year. For brunch, we stopped at a delicious Okonomiyake shop. After midday, we arrived at Asakusa (浅草) to visit the Buddhist temple, Sensō-ji where we started getting to know Japanese tradition for the last day of the year as well as enjoying watching the beautiful temple. Everyone went to a huge fountain to wash their hands, then to a big pot of incense to “clean up the soul” with the smoke from it. Then after, people throw coins to the altar to make a wish or say a prayer, applaud, bow and keep going. Around the temple, there was a big cylinder shape thing you can throw a coin and rotate. It´s full of numbers and depends on the number you pick, you get a fortune slip (おみくじ/Omikuji), negative, positive or neutral.
When you get a positive one, in case of Cédric, continue your way happily.
When you get a neutral one, in case of Hiromitsu, continue your way happily.
When you get a negative one, my case, you have to go to a place in the temple to tie to convert it into a better luck. So I did.
After our tour with a stop over included warm sake, biru (beer) and yakitori, we went back home to prepare the party.
In that night, we ate Soba, which is the traditional dinner for the New Years´ Eve. When we finished eating, we went to a pretty Shinto shrine in Saitama where we received the New Year with the sounds of the bell.
There was a long queue of people at the temple giving the monks some sort of offering made of dry palm leaves as different object. What the Okimori family explained to us was those objects reflect the year that finished and it´s important to burn them. A little before the mid night the bonfire was lit and we shared our tradition of eating grapes while we watched the fire. There were no fireworks, all of us just remained in silence and peace.
When we came back home, we celebrated with a big bottle of special sake, it was so special that had gold leaves inside. The year 2013 started in wonderful way!
On the 1st of January, I mean the first day of 2013 we wake up and ate Osechi-ryōri, which is a colourful, assorted typical dish Japanese people eat on that day and each element has a meaning to start a new year. After eating, we had to fulfil the day with the tradition: the first day of the year, you have to visit the temple and say prayers or make wishes. We went to Meiji Jingu, a magnificent Shinto shrine in Shibuya district. There was an immense crowd of people but all of them were so civilised and waited with patient until thier turn of throwing coins and making wishes. I have to admit that our wishes have fulfilled and even more.
A beautiful and different festival for the New Year´s Eve and the beginning of the year!!!
… to be continued…
Next episode : Chapter III. Itadakimasu – Japanese food is more than sushi.
Are you interested in follow our adventure? Here is our blog : borntobearoundtheworld.wordpress.com
More episodes from Oleñka and Cédric
More about the New Year´s in Japan
More about New Year preparation