Happy New Year!

Another year has come and gone. What a week it has been! Probably the best one since we got here. I’m so sad it’s over and all the New Year’s hoopla is dying down.

New Year’s is a big deal in Japan (and yes, it’s celebrated January 1st). It’s a holiday with deeply rooted historical, cultural, and religious significance. We were so lucky to be a part of the festivities. Kenny was given an entire week off from work and I cut back on tutoring.

One tradition in Japan is to drive out to the coast to see the first sunrise of the New Year. Luckily, we live within walking distance of the beach so we always planned on going. The night before, however, we started having second thoughts. We’d have to wake up at 4am and walk for thirty minutes in freezing weather without warm jackets (we’re cheap). The next morning when the alarm went off at 4, Kenny actually turned to me and asked to stay. I forced him out of bed with me because we already told everyone in town we’d go and we had a piece of toast and made our way to the beach.

I’m so glad we did. It was beautiful. I have never seen such a magnificent sunrise. I totally understand why people head to the beach. You can clearly see the sun come up over the horizon, and the light on the water is perfect. Not to mention, the sky was totally clear. We really lucked out with the weather. Everyone started cheering with the sun was first visible.

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Next, we walked to the big shrine in our area on the other side of town, (玉前神社), to have our first prayer of the new year. Most of the people with us at the beach were there at the shrine, it seemed. I’m so glad we got there when we did, as we only had to wait about 30-40 minutes to get in to say our prayer. We came back by for an afternoon stroll and the line was down the street. Those people would have to wait a couple hours before getting in. By the way, I’d love to take pictures of the actual shrine to share instead of just the gate (below), but it’s extremely disrespectful, so this will have to do.

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We spent the rest of the day eating and relaxing, the other part of the New Year’s tradition. It was great.

Saturday, we made our way to Omiya in Saitama prefecture for a small New Year’s gathering with Kenny’s host mother from high school, her family, and some of their friends who have become our friends. We walked over to the large shrine in their area (氷川神社), which is considerably larger than ours), had our fortunes told (I think that’s what was happening), and bought an arrow. We’re not sure what to do with that arrow, but supposedly have it protects us from Demons…or something. Here we are at a smaller shrine looking like the very demons the arrow I’m holding is supposed to protect us from (thanks a lot, iPhone camera flash).

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Omiya is great. If we could choose anywhere in Japan to live, it would be here.

The next day, we went to meet some friends in Kawagoe, Saitama. We met up with my old research partner and awesome friend from college. She’s Japanese, and it was so cool seeing her in her element. In the US, I was the one leading us around, but here, she was. The three of us went out to lunch, broke down and bought me and Kenny some winter coats, and then went and did karaoke. Everyone in Japan does karaoke and I’ve always wanted to, but Kenny hates it. He did it anyway, for me, and at least 2 out of the 3 of us had a blast. Unlike in karaoke bars in the US, here you typically go in a private room so you only are singing with your friends. I can’t wait to do it again. I totally understand the hype.

Again, I’m so sad this week is over. I love Saitama so much and I can’t wait to go back. Everyone we know and love (who is in Japan) is there. It feels more like home than Chiba does.

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