Well the New Year’s celebrations are long over and most people are back to work and school. Looking back at my winter vacation, it seemed to disappear in a flash. I shouldn’t really be complaining seen as though most of Japan’s workforce can only dream about two weeks of holiday. But while I didn’t travel anywhere particularly special, it was a relaxing end to the year.
After failing to acquire the delights from Colonel Saunders on Christmas Day, my girlfriend and I casual strolled into KFC on New Years Eve, ordered and left without a hitch. And then I prepared myself for the annual cringe-fest known as Koūhaku. Koūhaku is an end-of-year music festival that is broadcast live on Japanese TV and lasts about SIX HOURS. It’s been seen as a “tradition” of the holidays for the last sixty years, so naturally everyone watches it. Now, I’m no fan of Japanese popular music which I’ve made abundantly clear to those that have asked, so the notion of watching/ listening to more than 20 minutes of J-Pop is my idea of Hell. Young idol groups lip-syncing and dancing to songs comprised of broken English or a cringeworthy stint with Godzilla, Koūhaku really showcases most of my problems with Japanese popular culture. And if you were wondering how many times PPAP (Pen-Pineapple-Apple-Pen) was played; more than three times at different intervals. With my mind just about intact, we tucked into toshikoshi soba (warm buckwheat noodles) to remove the frustrations and hardships of the previous year (apparently) and the Koūhaku . And then we went to bed.
The next morning we celebrated New Years Day with my girlfriend’s family. Meeting her family has slowly become less of a daunting challenge. Of course no-one apart from my her really speaks English, so it can sometimes be a test of my Japanese conversational skills. But I’ve yet to piss off her mother or father which is always a good sign. Her family had prepared quite a spread with osechi, sushi, more KFC and lots of beer. Osechi is essentially a visually stunning selection of dishes organised into segmented boxes. Each particular fare has a special meaning to symbolise the coming year, though no-one really remembers any of that. What ensued was a game of “Russian Roulette”, as we attempted to avoid the questionable looking items for something that looked recognisable. Of course the Roast Beef was first to go, followed by the sashimi, until the dinner table devolved into everyone heckling each other to try the suspicious items. Most Japanese families make they’re own osechi instead of paying the ludicrous prices that stores offer, and I guess it helps that you actually know what you’re making. Though where’s the fun in that?
After drinking too much and eating far too much, we decided to go to the local shrine to “pray” for a successful year. Last year, I went to Hiroshima’s Gokoku Shrine which was completely rammed with people in kimono, dogs in kimono and people carrying Hamaya arrows. Hamaya translates into “demon-breaking arrow”, which sounds more badass than it actually is. They’re sold at shrines during New Years to ward off bad luck and misfortune. Instead of waiting 2 hours to pray, we opted to visit the local shrine in the area.
So that was the end of my year. I have no idea what will happen in 2017 which is slightly worrying me. But we’ll just have to see.