Happy 2018!

明けましておめでとう!Happy New Year!

“One of the greatest moments in your life is realising that, a year ago, you couldn’t do what you can do now.”
Mo Seetubim, founder of the Happiness Planner

26510442_10157017740918327_205654138_oI can’t remember a time when I wasn’t out doing something on New Year’s Eve. Even last year when I was really quite sick, I went to a house party (though I did fall asleep on the sofa at 1am…). This year my boyfriend and I cleaned our flat, wrote down our goals and New Year’s resolutions and drunk whiskey at home to welcome in 2018. I can tend towards over indulgence and hedonism so stepping back and not going out was… kind of liberating. I try to live life to the fullest, which most of the time is a good quality. However it can be a flaw when it leads me to feel that I have to be doing something because that’s what young, hip and alive people do on New Year’s Eve. It’s nice to go out when I want to go out, stay in when I want to stay in, regardless of an arbitrary day in the calendar. If I don’t party this one day I will not turn middle aged overnight and lament wasting my golden 20s. It’s all good.

26237858_10157017763463327_591999289_oThis morning we walked half an hour in beautiful sunshine to do 初詣 (hatsumōde, the first shrine visit of the year) at the same shrine as New Year’s two years ago. It’s nice to build our own traditions, even when we’re far from home. My fortune this year was really favourable and, though I don’t take these things too seriously, I do think good things are around the corner for me. I’m hoping that the seeds I sowed in 2017 will bear fruit.

 

 

2017 has been a year of excitement, doubt, self-discovery, some of the biggest challenges and most satisfying successes I have ever experienced. I wouldn’t say I have 100% got where I hoped I would be, but perhaps for the first time since childhood, I feel in touch with my authentic self and I am moving forward in the direction I want. There are many, many things I couldn’t have done at the start of 2017 that I can do now. And that is something.
Oh and I am now on my second Happiness Planner, something you might not expect given my entire personality. I recommend it so much to disorganised workaholics like myself who need to to write shit down and be reminded to chill out.

明けましておめでとう!Happy New Year

Happy New Year! New Years is the probably the most important holiday of the year in Japan, fulfilling a similar role to Christmas in the UK as a day where people spend time with their family and practice religious traditions, whether or not they themselves are committed believers. At the moment Tokyo is very quiet – many people have fled the city to visit family in their rural home towns, shops and business are closed and many will remain so until the 3rd.

There are two main choices of New Years greeting in Japan. 明けましておめでとう(akemashite omedetuo) is what you say during the first few days of the year. Be careful with this one, it is often simply translated as ‘Happy New Year’ but it is incorrect to say it on New Years Eve, unlike its English equivalent. If you want a season specific greeting on NYE, try the more general よいお年を!(yoi otoshi wo) which means ‘have a good year.’

My friends and I were at Shibuya crossing at the turn of the year, counting down to 2016 with the huge crowds present. Everyone went a little crazy  at midnight, popping champagne cheering and running into the streets periodically a bit like a mosh pit. It was intense but a lot of fun. After that we went to Womb, a nearby club, and had a great time dancing the night away. A good thing about going out in Tokyo at New Years is that the trains run on all night at half hour intervals. One of my biggest complaints about Tokyo is that the last train is ridiculously early and there are absolutely no night buses. This combined with the sky high taxi fares makes a sensible night out virtually impossible – you have to commit to staying out until the first train at 5am which usually leads either to being extremely bored or someone chundering in the streets of Roppongi. I escaped either of these fates, thanks to the trains allowing me to go home at 3am like a normal human being.

The only places that typically aren’t deserted on New Years Day are Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. Quite the opposite in fact – when my boyfriend and I headed to our local Shinto shrine today it was so busy we had to queue for about an hour to get in. It’s traditional to either go to a shrine on new years day or midnight – which is probably why the trains run all night, not to cater to disreputable young gaijin like myself who fancy a dance.

shrine queue instaI’m glad we chose to go to our local shrine instead of heading to one of the massive famous shrines such as Meiji Jingu – whilst I’m sure that would have been an amazing experience, the intimacy of our local shrine felt almost magical. We arrived a little before sunset and queued for about an hour so we watched the sun go down on the shrine and the lamps being lit which was lovely.

fortune instagramAt the shrine we washed our hands with ritual water and queued up to throw ¥5 or ¥50 yen into a box (these coins have holes in them, which is good luck), ring the temple bell, clap and bow. We also bought おもくじ (omokuji) – paper fortunes which make predictions about various aspects of your life such as business, family and romance for the coming year. They’re rated from really lucky to a big curse and I got 小吉 (shou kichi) which means ‘small luck,’ so not too bad. I was told that I will achieve what I wish for – my 願事 (negaigoto) – this year, but it will be tough so I have to work hard. Sounds about right to be honest 😉 Along with many others I tied my fortune on the wires in the shrine grounds in the hope of improving it.

I’m a Christian but I didn’t feel uncomfortable taking part in these practices. This is because, although some Japanese are institutional Shintoists, Shinto is widely regarded as a religion of ritual practices which are an important part of Japanese culture, rather than a dedicated and exclusive belief system which governs ones life. I’m confident that some of the people at my local shrine today were atheists, Buddhists, even Christians or Muslims, taking part in the rituals because it’s tradition, rather than because they have any serious belief. Like how we burn Guy Fawkes in effigy on Bonfire Night in the UK but less… horrible and bizarre.

(I love Bonfire Night, but looking at your country’s traditions from the outside makes you see them in a new light)

I really enjoyed my first New Years in Japan and I wish you all the best for 2016!

me at lamp