あけましておめでとう！ Happy New Years! I know that I’m a month late with this but still wanted to write about my New Years experience.
The traditional thing to do leading up to New Years is spend time with family and close friends eating good food with alcoholic drinks whether beer, wine, or Japanese sake. The past half century or so it has become tradition also to watch Kōhaku, the most watch television program of the year in Japan in which the most popular songs from the past year are performed in a guys verses gals competition leading up to New Year’s count down. Lady GaGa even did a special performance via satellite and I think that helped the girls team to win the competition this year. The show usually last for about four hours!
After midnight it is customary for many to participate in hatsumōde, the first shrine and or temple visit of the year. I’ve heard a lot about this from friends over the years and wanted to see and experience for myself what goes on.
In Asakusa near the big Kaminarimon gate the street was completely cornered off. Past the gate entrance it was completely packed with people.
Past the second gates at the Sensō-ji Buddhist temple everyone made their prayers by clapping their hands twice and throwing pocket change towards the center. Nearly all of my friends that I have asked about this tell me that this is just Japanese culture; they pray for things like health, romance, a new job, money, etc. In this way it functions practically more like a wishing well than it does of having any kind of personal relationship with God. Just outside of leaving the temple many people were hanging out where you could buy beer, fried soba noodles, and cooked fish on a stick. In Japan, Buddhism together with Shintoism is more just a Japanese cultural thing rather than it is a deeply held conviction about the nature of God. But this cultural influence and its history still shapes the foundation of Japanese society.
The trains in Tokyo, which normally stop running after between 12am to 1pm, run all night New Year’s Eve into New Years day… except for the train line I currently use to take home. So I stayed at a capsule hotel.
The one I stayed at was on the cheaper side and was not as glamorous as I’ve heard them to be. But it provided a comfortable place for me to sleep for the night and despite how small it looks I actually had plenty of space. For ¥2400 a night it was a nice alternative to sleeping in a Internet cafe which normally go for about ¥1500 and are an inexpensive safe haven for those who miss the last train. Both capsule hotels and internet cafes come with a shower, but the extra ¥1000 is worth the price for a bed.
The next morning many people were still going to the temple for hatsumōde when I came across this group holding up signs with bible verses and loud speakers.
In the past I have met people in Tokyo who do this kind of evangelism, some of them were really nice while others had horrible attitudes. From what I understand of the signs and what is spoken on the loudspeakers I completely agree with the words. But this method of communicating God’s word appears to be more disturbing and scary to people than it does giving a good impression of Christianity in Japan. If positive stories of these encounters are out there though I would love to hear them. Below is a video from 2008’s New Year Eve someone shot of these guys in Shibuya.