Monday, January 16, 2006

A Japanese style New Year

Are you a party animal? Do you bring in the New Year with a bang? Are you the sort of person who dances in the club until dawn and then stumbles home to bed on New Years day? If you said yes to one or all of the above then Japan may not be the place for your New Years partying experience. Now I am the sort of person who parties hard on New Years Eve so Japanese New Year was not a let down for me, just a different experience.

Japanese New Year (shyou gatsu) is all about tradition, culture and family time. The lead up to New Years Eve is crazy, the super markets and shops are overflowing with people as they stock pile food and other necessities before Japan almost literally shuts down for 3 days. Also in the lead up to New Years Eve every man, woman and child is madly crafting 100’s of aesthetically pleasing New Years cards to send to friends, family and any other random person that comes to mind. Until recently most of these cards were illustrated by hand (many still are), each containing detailed pictures and messages, software companies must have made millions of dollars in Japan with the introduction of the modern colour printer and desktop photo editing software. The amount of cards sent and received is mind boggling- my family sent at least 400 cards and received 500-600 cards. Even more amazing is that if the Japanese receive a card from someone they didn’t send a card to, they promptly create another card to send back to that person. Another amazing New Years card fact- the Japanese keep every card they receive; all the cards are collected and stored in what is similar to an photo album.

My Japanese New Years Eve was very quiet, in fact I went to bed at 9:30pm only to be awoken at 11:30pm to eat soba noodles….. yes that is right, to eat Japanese noodles. I’m not sure of the exact meaning of this but apparently it is a Japanese tradition to eat soba noodles between 11:30pm and 12am to welcome in the New Year. New Years day my family and I headed up to Sasebo city to stay at my host father’s parent’s house overnight- once again we feasted- Sushi and other foods that won’t make you gain weight, I also made money….lots of money. Japanese tradition dictates that on New Years relatives (parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles) give all the children money. In short I made the equivalent of $400 AUD within 10 minutes, not bad huh? Of course I thank all my relatives for accepting me as part of the family- that was the biggest gift. The next day my family and I went to the New Years sales at Sasebo shopping arcade- nothing really of interest. Following our shopping trip we headed to Isahaya to have dinner with all my host mother’s relatives- once again we stuffed ourselves silly.

It was nice to experience another cultures version of New Years, though as I am young and wild I think I still prefer partying hard on New Years Eve.