Akemashite Omedetou! – New Year’s Eve, Tokyo Style
New Year’s Eve has got to be the most hyped up event of the year and more often than not, can end up being decidedly anti-climatic. Now that I’m older and (somewhat) wiser I put little effort into my New Year’s celebrations. In my youth however (all of three years ago), I was determined to make the most of it, in some instances going so far as to leave the country.
Now, I know slightly better.
2011 was a harrowing year and I was rather pleased it was coming to an end. I decided that there was no better place to see in the New Year, than in Tokyo, Japan. I had been in Paris for NYE two years previous and had not had the best time. I figured nothing could be as bad as that… onwards and upwards!
Japan was a surprisingly very cool place to visit and in the lead up to NYE, I was excited about where the night may take would lead. New Years is a very spiritual, family orientated event in Japan, contrary to the Western culture of getting utterly shit-faced, in order to start the next year with as much regret as one can muster. In the days leading up the event, Tokyo station had been filled with Japanese citizens, lining up to board the trains that would take them to their families, often with their adorably tiny animals in tow.
We decided to spend the night at Meiji Shrine, probably the most popular spot in Tokyo to see in the new year. The area, which is near Tokyo tower, is turned into a mini-fairground for New Years, filled with music, colour and people, both locals and foreigners alike.
I was quite enamoured by the prospect of taking part in one of the Japanese traditions. If you got there earlier rather than later, you received a slip of paper, on which you were instructed to write down your “wish” for the new year. You correspondingly received a balloon, which you were to fasten your wish onto. As the clock ticked over to midnight, everyone let go of their balloons and they would drift lazily into the night sky, taking the wishes with them. It sounded really special and I was eager to be a part of it.
Unfortunately, the group I was with dragged their feet, wishing to pre-drink, then stop at all the little temples on the way. By the time we eventually made it to the Meiji Shrine, it was close to ten and all the balloons had been handed out. I was fairly livid with my then-boyfriend. He made up for it, trying to buy a balloon off a local for 10,000 YEN. She refused, which was financially for the best and I thought the gesture sweet, so I quickly let it go.
We wandered around the markets nearby, sampling food, before congregating with everyone else in the square outside the temple. As we had arrived pretty late, there wasn’t much of a wait until crunch time.
The countdown soon began and we eagerly joined in:
“Go! Shi! San! Ni! Ichi!”
A cheer rose from the crowd and with it, the hoards of balloons, which floated lazily up into the night sky. Fireworks went of all around us as people laughed, whistled and canoodled. Then there was, a rush to get into the temple. Being Japan, the queue was orderly, but immense.
It took an hour and a half to get in. ONE HOUR. AND A HALF. Once there, people gathered around the middle section of the temple, where you could drop a coin into the Japanese version of a wishing well, throwing in with your money your desires for the new year. I flipped a coin over the side and made a wish for, I don’t recall what now – prosperity and happiness perhaps. I guess my wish was granted, so maybe it was worth the wait.
Tonight will be the third New Years I celebrate in country that is not my own. Having failed to secure a ticket in the ballot for a coveted spot on the Thames (good one, London) I’ll be rushing to secure a vantage point elsewhere. Bring it England; let’s see what you’ve got.
Wherever you are and whatever you may be doing, I wish you the happiest of New Years celebrations. May all your dreams come true.