Huge Apartments and the Holidays

The holiday season in Japan is a lot different than how it is in the U.S., for several reasons. I suppose the biggest would be that Christmas isn’t a national holiday. Instead of Christmas being the big thing, it’s New Year’s. Even though it’s eight days into the New Year, people are still wishing me a Happy New Year all the time.

Once classes ended for the season, I went to Saijo again. A lot of the ALTs would be traveling, so I thought it would be too lonely to stay. Instead I decided I would spend the holidays with friends up there.

On Saturday, I was invited to S’s Christmas party. It was in an apartment complex downtown that I’d never been to. I was really surprised when we got inside! It looked like a suburban American house on the inside! It was truly roomy, and I didn’t even get to see half of it. It felt a bit like a normal Christmas, especially when the food came out!

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There was a real turkey! In Japan it’s tradition to eat chicken on Christmas, for whatever reason. But this party had a turkey! Not only that, but S’s roommate is an excellent cook. Everything was delicious, like that vegetable Christmas tree in the back – it was filled with potato salad! While we ate course after course of things that S’s roommate spent the day making, everyone mingled. There were tons of really smart people there, so it was fun to talk to them.

The day after this I met with the current exchange student from Minnesota. We went to another party with more very good food, and once again it was hosted in a very big apartment.

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We had taco night! Mexican food is another thing you can’t really get in Japan. I know what we made isn’t authentic Mexican, but it’s definitely close to what we eat back in the U.S. The Minnesotan exchange student had received all of the fixings for Christmas from her parents, and she was kind enough to share it with us. We ate it in her friend’s apartment – a giant two story place one train stop away from Hiroshima City. He lived alone, so when we first got there it felt a bit lonely. But when we moved up to the room he spent most of his time in, it felt a lot more lived in and cozy. The group there was, to be honest, quite immature, but that kind of made it fun. The whole thing reminded me of sleepovers from days gone by.

The next day was Christmas Eve. That’s a funny thing in Japan. Last time I spent Christmas Eve in this country, all of us exchange students went to a party together. This year, however, I got to witness what it’s really like. What’s it really like? Well… Couples. Nothing but couples, as far as the eye can see. Especially in the city. I met with one of my male friends after work, and we opted to go to the least romantic izakaya we could find. On the way out he paid for me and said, “It’s because I don’t want to seem like I’m a bad boyfriend on Christmas Eve. I know we’re not dating, but everyone thinks we are if we’re out tonight.”

Christmas Day was no less bizarre. I didn’t do anything until nighttime – I went out drinking with a few new friends.

The park near the Genbaku Dome was lit up prettily, and the Dome itself was stunning. I think that night was the first night I’ve ever seen it lit up.

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Unlike the night before the city was rather dead, but not so much because it was Christmas so much as because it was a Tuesday. In Japan, Christmas is really just like any other day.

A few days later I went with one of these guys to an izakaya and tried fugu – the fish that is notorious if it’s prepared incorrectly. I had it fried, which I think is a bit unusual. I’m still here to tell the tale!

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The last day of interest was when I went to the 忘年会 (bounenkai), or end-of-year party at one of my favorite old hangouts. I got to see the maker of deadly takoyaki for the first time in two years! I came in about five minutes before he arrived. When I did I was facing the bar, and the two bartenders pointed at me when he came in. When I turned around he shouted with surprise. We got a game of darts in for old time’s sake. Before I left he gave me his business card and told me to visit his workplace in Osaka. Sooner or later, I hope to do so!

I came back to Kagoshima on New Year’s Eve. As I’ve said, New Year’s here is much more like Christmas. It’s a time to spend with your family. So instead of going out to a party as I might have in America, I simply went to one of the other ALT’s apartments to watch ガキの使 (Gaki no Tsukai), a ridiculous comedy show broadcast every year on New Year’s Eve. The show is more widely known as, “You Can’t Laugh,” or maybe, “Silent Library” is what Americans know it as. Basically a group is put through a day of ridiculous scenarios in which they can’t laugh or they get hit. Why is this a Japanese New Year’s tradition? I’m not sure, but I did enjoy watching it.

On New Year’s Day some of us ALTs did 初詣 (hatsumoude), or the first shrine visit of the year at Kagoshima City’s Terukuni Shrine. The shrine was really crowded!

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We waited a long time in line to get our chance to pray. I think the others might have been a bit annoyed with the crowds and the waiting. I’m not sure. I just know that I really enjoy the atmosphere in shrines. There’s something about it that really calms me, even when the place is bustling with people. It’s so unlike anything back in the U.S.

As so many other people do on New Year’s Day in Japan, I bought an お守り (omamori), which is basically a good luck charm. I spent a long time looking through all the different ones I could purchase. They have specific ones for luck in everything from money, to romance, to success in school, to general happiness. I bought one that grants one wish if I write it inside. I don’t have anything specific I want to wish for now, so the omamori is hanging with a blank card from my keyboard. If there’s something I really need to wish for, it will be there.Happy 2013 everyone! May it bring you many good things!

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~ by megumiwasframed on January 8, 2013.

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