Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Eve without the countdown

We'd been entertaining and indulging quite a bit in the last week so we decided to lay low this New Year's Eve. It's funny, we've spent New Year's together now in Guatemala, India, Peru, Minneapolis (and now Japan) and more often than not, we find ourselves just walking around town seeing what people are up to.

We live a block from a shrine that is one of the most important in its sect of Shintoism and we'd seen vendors setting up the day before so we knew there would be people around. We walked over at about 20 minutes to midnight and sure enough there were lots of people, especially young people. Sometimes it seems like there is no one between the ages of uniformed school children and senior citizens in our town so it was nice to see the young hipsters out in throngs. Everybody was all dressed up too. The guys had their hair all spiked up. The girls were in full on big city gear - healed fur boots, long dyed hair, longer fake eyelashes, etc. Everyone was on their way up to the shrine but there was a fair amount of hanging out in front of garbage can fires like these:

There were actually a lot of drunk people out which can be annoying in other countries but which in Japan just seems like a relief, if anything. It means they're loosening up and enjoying themselves which doesn't seem to happen much, at least around these parts. Still, it's an interesting New Year's tradition to drink with your friends and then go to the shrine to pray, right?

Here's the weirdest part - there was no countdown. The New Year arrived without notice. There were hundreds of people gathered but no counting backwards from 10, no shouts at midnight (obviously no smooching), no fireworks, not even a gong. We heard some bells and drums throughout the night but nothing special at midnight. In fact, we missed it. We were walking around and casually checked our watches to find it was a few minutes past midnight. It was perhaps the most underwhelming New Year's we've ever had. I'm sure it was quite exciting in Tokyo, Kyoto and other big cities, but in our town it was a very well attended but quiet affair.

Mostly it seemed a lot about waiting in the cold to get to the shrine. This picture kind of sums up the vibe.

Perhaps the highlight was seeing a girl coming towards us in full gothic lolita gear (pigtails, over the top dress with petticoat, etc.), remarking on how cool her outfit was and then realizing we knew her. She's our student in the community ed English class we teach Wed. nights. Her mom, who is also in the class, was there too and they were both really excited to see us. That's the fun part about living in a smaller town like this - we see people we know almost every time we leave the house so we do feel like part of the community.

Even though there wasn't too much excitement or a countdown it was still pretty interesting to see the different vendors like this one:

More tomorrow on the New Year's Day scene (with better daytime pictures)! Happy New Year to all of our friends and family. Here's to an amazing 2011!

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