Thursday, January 12, 2012

Starting A New Year In Tokyo

It's already almost January 13 here in Japan so I'm a little late with this post...BUT, since I just started this blog, I figure I'm excused. In late November, Rich and I made the decision not to go to Hawaii for Christmas and New Years. This was a big decision for me since I have only been away from home for Christmas one time out of 34 (that's right, I said it, 34!).  Our friends Lori and Eric from SoCal were going to be in Tokyo for New Years so we decided to head up there and spend New Year's Eve with them. Luckily I was able to reserve a room at the hotel they were staying at, which is located in the Shiodome District of Tokyo.  Shiodome, with its amazing skyscrapers and futuristic look, is a recently redeveloped area and one of the more modern areas of Tokyo (it's located close to Ginza and Tsukiji Market).  There is an elevated/above ground walkway that connects the major buildings, and there is also an underground walkway that connects the buildings with the subway station.  As I learned from this trip, many of the hotels in Tokyo start at around the 25th floor and go to the top of the building, while the lower levels house offices and businesses.

On the morning of the 31st, we caught the train from our house to Shiodome Station.  The first thing that struck me when we entered the elevated walkway which would take us to the hotel was that there was no one, and I mean no one was seriously eerie. But once we exited on the 25th floor of our hotel, I was relieved when I saw living, breathing human beings and I was assured that we were not in a scene from "I am Legend" or "The Walking Dead."  After dinner, and in keeping with Japanese tradition, the four of us headed to Zojo-Ji Temple in the Shiba area of Tokyo. I learned from Lori that it is tradition to go to a temple for the countdown to midnight, and that at midnight, everyone releases balloons with their thoughts and wishes for the year.  Zojo-Ji Temple is a popular spot for New Years and is frequently referred to in news articles and reports describing how people from various countries celebrated the new year. We heard that last year, 10,000 people were at Zojo-Ji Temple to ring in the new year.

Enjoying our chu-his on the street
By 10:00 p.m., the streets heading toward the temple were swarming with people.  Since we still had a good 2 hours to go, we decided to stop at the good ole Family Mart (the equivalent of 7-11) to introduce our friends to the miracle that is canned chu-hi (our chu-hi of choice is Strong Zero). There was nowhere to sit, so we took our chu-his and drank them as we walked - at first we were self conscious drinking on the street, but one quick glance around at others (local and foreign) drinking openly put us at ease.  We drew the line at taking our drinks into the temple and made a brief stop to finish our drinks.  We were totally in conversation when this guy comes up to us and practically screams "Gaijin??" at us.  He was obviously a Gaijin himself. which he confirmed by emphatically announcing "I'm Gaijin too!!" He proceeded to say "Don't mind me, I'm just random," to which Lori replied "You ARE random."  After we went back to our conversation (without him), he abruptly turned around and left.  I later admitted to Lori that he creeped me out and I hoped we didn't run into him again.

In front of the Seiko Clock at the temple gate

At 10:50, yes 10:50, the guys went in search of a bathroom.  At first, Lori and I kept ourselves occupied by chatting and catching up, but as it got closer to midnight with no Rich and Eric in sight, we silently seethed thinking to ourselves they BETTER be back by midnight.  At 11:40, I got a text from my husband saying "No way to get through.  I Love You."  In disbelief (and when I say disbelief, I mean we didn't believe they couldn't make it through), Lori and I counted down the new year together and watched in awe as thousands of balloons with wishes attached to them were released at midnight.  Shortly thereafter, we tried to make our way to the exit.  After being pushed, shoved, unintentionally groped, and literally riding a wave of people to get back to the gate, we acknowledged that perhaps we did believe that Rich and Eric couldn't make it through all the people.  All in all, it was a great time and something I'm glad I got to experience!

Happy New Year!!!

2011 was a year of big changes for me - I got married, I moved to another country and I took a leave of absence (well for now anyway) from a career/profession which, including school, I've been involved in for the past eleven years.  While I don't foresee as many big changes this year, I am hopeful that 2012 is going to be a great year too!

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