I know, I know – I hate out of season holiday references as much or more than the next person. But let’s just recap:
Christmas Eve I worked, but in the evening I was invited to a mass by an acquaintance. Though it was in Japanese – on top of being in Catholic which might qualify as it’s own language – there was enough of familiar readings and hymns that I had a pleasant time.
Christmas Day I worked again, but in the evening we had a goodbye party for one of the teachers. It turned out he wasn’t leaving after all – as the students have been getting steadily more wild it was decided that afternoon he would stay on as a “school supporter.” So it was a fairly relaxed evening in a cozy restaurant. Aside from the merciless teasing by all the teachers about my supposed crush on the said school supporter, and the head teacher deciding we needed to play a game where everyone has a piece of sushi with the unlucky ones having huge amounts of wasabi inside. I didn’t strike that jackpot, though the poor school supporter did, which was was unfortunate at a party “in his honor.”
I went stir-crazy for a few days, and then I headed into Tokyo for my long-anticipated New Year’s.
I had managed, with luck and a bit of cunning, to acquire tickets to two of Kinki Kids concerts. So I went the evening of the 31st, and again on the 1st, which was particularly special as it’s Koichi-kun birthday, 31 years old.
For the actual countdown to 2010, it was too lonely sitting in my youth hostel bunk, so I headed to the nearby Senso-ji temple.
Let me tell you, you have not experienced “crowded” until you visit a major temple or shrine at New Year’s, when everyone in the country visits to make the year’s first prayer, donation, and maybe buy a small charm (turning in the old one from the year before). The temple is at the end of a long shopping alley, and though I got in line around 11:30, I didn’t reach the altar until after 1 in the morning. That’s how slow it was moving – though it was a festive atmosphere so I wasn’t bored. There were a good amount of other foreigners mixed in with the locals, and they called out “Happy New Year!” after counting down, and exchanged kisses around the ground. A Japanese couple near me looked on wistfully. “It must be nice, being that open and passionate,” said the man, and his girlfriend responded, “We could kiss in public too.” But after exchanging a glance they decided they weren’t brave enough for that. After the temple, there were food stalls in full swing despite the hour – I couldn’t stomach heavy festival food at that hour, so I headed back to the hostel to rest up for another day of touristing.
The Kanda Myojin shrine.
Someday I’ll manage a trip to Tokyo without swinging by Takeshita Doori:
Entering Shibuya station, I stumbled through an anti-foreigners protest. Yelling about how much they wanted me out of their country, none of the sign-wavers met my eye:
The Emperor and the Imperial Family is only seen by the public two days a year – December 23rd (his birthday) and January 2nd. Figuring this might be my only opportunity, I again stood in line:
“I saw the Emperor” might be an exaggeration. I saw nothing except the jacket of the man in front of me. It was so packed I could have lifted my feet and been carried along. Even on my tip-toes I could mostly just see the flags waving fervently:
But really, every newspaper and channel in the country was getting much higher quality pictures than me. It’s enough that I was there in that crowded, with the devoted men around me calling out, “Tennou! Heika! Banzai!” Emperor, Your Majesty, May You live ten thousand years, over and over, in a chant no less passionate for its redundancy. He lifted his hand, they fell silent, he said a few words and then they went inside.
I was reminded of the concert, of all things. It’s become tradition that on Koichi’s birthday, Tsuyoshi improvises a piano-ballad that seeks to put into words all the devotion the fans can’t express. This year it went something like, “Kochan, even though you’re an old man now, we love you. Even though you’re going bald, we love you. Even though you’re wearing silver pants, we love you.” The fans (this is their favorite part of the concert, more than the dancing and the actual songs) wave their fans and penlights fervently, calling out the name of the birthday boy.
May you live ten thousand years.