Friday, January 4, 2013

Anatomy of a Japanese New Year

We're not rocking out that's for sure.

Instead, our New Year was one of, excepting exceptionally bratty children and up-chuck, one of peace.

As if the wont of Beloved's family, we spent New Year's Eve eating the usual food, soba (buckwheat noodles). According to Japanese tradition, one must eat soba or udon, a thick white noodle, on New Year's Eve, the idea being you eat long foods to live longer. Funnily enough, Beloved's mother hated soba... until her daughter moved to Nagano (One of Nagano's specialties is soba) and now she's a fan. we also watched the yearly battle on NHK between the red and white teams.

This takes a bit of explanation, NHK, the main government sponsored broadcaster, does a yearly song battle between a woman's team (Red) and a men's team (White). White usually wins. Pretty much if you're ANYONE in Japan, you want to be on this show. The highest earners, the most popular talents, appear. It's as much of a tradition as Dick Clark's broadcast is in the US. It runs from 7:30 till 11:45.

The boys of course weren't allowed to stay up that late of course, but they did manage to stay up late enough to enjoy the all Disney review (Tokyo Disneyland's 40th is next year), which of course made them uber-happy children. The rest of the songs, meh. Well, except for AKB48. And Fashion Monster. But that was about it for the kids. They were in bed and hopefully dreaming of hawks, eggplants, and Mt. Fuji (All very good omens to dream of on New Year's Eve) by 9.

At 11:45 came the final countdown to the New Year, except that it wasn't one at all. Instead NHK did its usual broadcasts from temples around Japan slowly ringing in the New Year by ringing their bells 108 times (It's a Buddhist belief that there are 108 devils that attack humanity and that by ringing the bell 108 times, those devils are driven away) until 12 am when the broadcasters very seriously wished us a Happy New Year.

That's New Year's Eve in Japan, very calm and serious. Sure, there are those who were having some fun going to shrines at midnight for the first visit of the year, but Japan is not party central.

New Year's Day again is very serious. We woke early to see the first sun rise on 2013 and then had breakfast.

Breakfast it should be explained it a rather elaborate affair.

See, according to tradition, for at least New Year's Day, no work should be done so before New Year's Day, Beloved, her mother, and sisters spent the day in the kitchen making enough food to last us for the next few days. The breakfasts were then placed in very beautiful wooden boxes and set out to wait for us in the morning. Come that morning we had a plethora of various foods to eat, tea made from cherry blossoms, and sake. Pretty much all day long we snacked off of these foods (I don't actually remember lunch, we just more or less ate snacks, oranges, apples, chocolates, etc) and then sat down to dinner of, well, breakfast.

Just to have Makoto throw up.

It turned out however that this was more someone ate too many oranges and rough housed a bit too much with his uncles before dinner than being sick (Which is a blessing, last year we managed to have both boys get stomach flu, which meant Beloved spent New Year's Eve at a hospital).

But that is pretty much how our New Year's panned out. We have spent the last few days staying at home, hibernating under the kotatsu, eating snacks and good food (To the tune of me gaining 3 kg) and enjoying the company as they say.

This is a Japanese New Year. It's not filled with parties and the like, though there's shopping and races. There's shrine visits and food, but mostly it's the nation taking a breath, a breather before starting the year. Given that everyone in Japan heads back to their homes for this, we have returned to the beginning before staring again.

So let's start.

As they say in Japan, 明けましておめでとう

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