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The New Year in Tokyo

Tokyo Travel Blog

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in line to visit the neighborhood shrine, new year's day
The new year celebration in Japan is one mixed with tradition, culture, and consumerism, all packed into a one week extravaganza. In many ways, it's not too different from the American holiday. While Christmas is not widely celebrated in Japan - the actual day is not so much a family holiday, rather it is better known as a day to spend with your date or loved one out on a date, i.e. a couples' day - the New Year is perhaps one of the most widely anticipated events of the year. It's a time of family gathering, of visiting your ancestors' graves and paying respect to them, of visiting local and national shrines, of witnessing the 初日 hatsu-hi or first sunrise of the new year, of eating おせち料理 new year's food, and of reflection.

I was fortunate enough to spend the new year's with a friend of mine and I indulged in many of the more cultural aspects of the holiday which included eating mochi soup, visiting the neighborhood shrine at midnight on new year's, and sitting in on a Buddhist ceremony.
It was all a wonderful experience, much better than simply watching fireworks in my opinion.

Of course, what is Japanese culture without a mix of tradition and contemporary consumerism? The new year, in addition to all that was mentioned above, is also about the shopping. Almost all of the major stores have a three to five day extravaganza where huge sales draw crowds young and old from near and far to buy, buy, buy! The main attraction: 福袋 fukubukuro or 'grab bags'. These enticing mystery bags are bought at a set price, usually around 1万円 (100USD), and are filled with goods from that particular store. The value of these bags is always worth more than what you pay, so essentially, you can't go wrong. Jonathan and I decided it would be a good idea to venture out and take part in this holiday tradition.
We had no idea it would be so crazy! (see video)

We also did our share of shrine and temple visiting during this time. We paid a visit to Asakusa and tested the onsen that is located right next to the temple. Apparently we weren't the only ones who had this idea. While we were soaking, in walked an older, rather firm-looking Japanese man. As he turned around, we saw the mark: a huge dragon tattoo that sprawled the length of his entire back. He sat next to me in the bath. The large tattoos that run the length of mens' backs in Japan are usually signs of inviduals' status as members of the yakuza, or Japanese mafia. We were both excited and slightly terrified. As we exited the onsen, we saw his BMW parked right in front of the building, taking up the length of the bicycle parking - just one of the benefits of being a yakuza I guess.

It was an interesting and enjoyable holiday, one New Year's I will never forget.
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in line to visit the neighborhood …
in line to visit the neighborhood…
the line to get into asakusa temple
the line to get into asakusa temple
the line (cont) to get into asakusa
the line (cont) to get into asakusa
the crowds at asakusa temple
the crowds at asakusa temple
a look inside a japanese onsen
a look inside a japanese onsen
even starbucks had their own fukub…
even starbucks had their own fuku…
the mysterious fukubukuro
the mysterious fukubukuro
lining up inside parco
lining up inside parco
new years sales
new year's sales
i bought one bag
i bought one bag
Kiel and Jonathan wander through …
Tokyo
photo by: maka77