New Year’s Eve
※ This article discusses the 31st of December 2016.
New Year’s Eve is a big deal in Japan. Our current holidays at university (formally 2 weeks) are given due to the coming of the new year.
In Austria, people celebrate New Year’s Eve in various kinds. Some people go for a drink with friends into the city. Some people gather at public places in the center of the city to celebrate collectively. Some people stay at home, do some molybdomancy, watch Dinner for One at TV and dance to the blue Danube. Sparkling wine (in some countries called more generically champaign) is a common drink after midnight. Some people enjoy the fireworks from distance and hike on a hill/moutain close to the city. Stargazing can following romantically this approach. These activities are different in Japan.
Before this day, you can buy chicken-themed New Year’s cards in many places. 2017 is the year of the chicken according to the Chinese calendar. Fireworks are not popular, though fireworks are organized in Tokyo (video on youtube). At Shibuya, the large intersection in Tokyo, New Year is celebrated by collectively counting down. At Zōjō-ji, a Buddhist temple near Tokyo Tower, they release balloons when the countdown has finished. But most of the families stay, of course, at home and just like in Austria there are popular TV shows like Kouhaku Uta Gassen. Celebrating the end of the previous year and welcoming the next year is reflected on the next day in funny events like Fukubukuro. NHK reports,
People have flocked to department stores in Japan to buy New Year bargain packages known as lucky bags.
A store in Osaka opened earlier than normal on Monday morning. 7,000 people were waiting outside before it opened its doors. Staffers had prepared 50,000 lucky bags.
Beside only selling goods in the bargain events, department stores have been working hard to sell bags that let buyers have various special experiences.
A bag that sold for almost 700 dollars includes tableware for a baby’s first meal, clothing for its first shrine visit and a photography session. Another with a price tag of more than 5,000 dollars features an imported camera and the photo session with a traditional female entertainer in the ancient capital of Kyoto.
As far as our time in Kobe is concerned, we wanted originally wanted to be in Tokyo during the holidays. 3 days in Tokyo, followed by 1 day in Kyoto during New Year’s Eve. It was told that near the Imperial Palace, many local people are going to celebrate at midnight. Going to Tokyo by Shinkansen is expensive (10000 Yen) and therefore we considered the night bus (around 3200 Yen). Other international students did so. But planning the hotels and sightseeing points takes its time and I am also currently out of funds for such events. So we didn’t put enough effort into organizing this trip and stayed in Kobe. Because of that, I wanted to finish some Kobe sightseeing points from my bucket list. I blogged about these points in my last posts. Staying in Kobe, we didn’t leave the residence during the day. In the evening we headed towards Ikuta Shrine at 21:00. There were only 3 people in the train going towards Sannomiya from Minatojima.
We were told the most interesting spot for New Year’s Eve is Ikuta Shrine. This large shrine in the center of Kobe represents the door in Kobe’s name. Remember that 神戸 consists of two Kanji, where 神 (こう, kou) stands for "god" and 戸 (べ, be) stands for "door", hence "God’s door". And Ikuta Shrine basically defined the location of Kobe.
Kobe did not exist in its current form until its founding in 1889. Its name comes from "kanbe" ( 神戸 ), an archaic title for supporters of the city’s Ikuta Shrine. Kobe became one of Japan’s 17 designated cities in 1956.
We went there and found many food festival booths. As it is New Year’s Eve, we wanted to do something special. Just like every other week, my parents wanted to have a video chat session with me. This week they were at my brother’s. So I was able to see my brother, his wife and children after a longer time. Unlike the previous times where I was at the dormitory, I was in front of the Shrine chatting with them. It was kind of fun though we had no clue how it would affect our 2GB mobile data limit. In the end chatting with them for about 75 minutes resulted in to ~700 MB traffic via appear.in/WebRTC which is unexpectedly little in my opinion. Also my other brothers joined in and it was a nice conversation. The video chat took roughly an hour.
New Year’s Eve at Ikuta Shrine
At ~23:20 we investigated the ongoing activities at the Shrine. During our video chat, people organized themselves in front of the Shrine. Before midnight, the Shrine is locked up. People gather in front in a queue and wait for entry at 00:00. When they enter they can go to booths, buy Omamori (amulettes and charms) and make their first prayer of the year. I was told the queue was extraordinary long ranging several blocks inside the city. The police took care to control the traffic. The booths in front of the Shrine (accessible before midnight) include all kinds of food like Candy apple, Mochi (I love these!) and cotton candy. Gold fish scooping ( 金魚 すくい, きんぎょすくい) and shooting galleries are also popular, available games (watch this video by Ronin for a goldfish scooping introduction).
I was never allowed to eat cotton candy in my childhood, so I bought some for 500 Yen. They had a Pokemon design. This coincides with me playing Pokemon Yellow edition in the last few days (Hey, I am already in Vermilion City!). I think this was the second time in my life I ate cotton candy (the first one was at 29C3). Martina bought some chestnuts. In the city, we thought we had to bake them first, but at home we found out that you only have to make a hole and squeeze them to get them out. In Austria, they are always partially cut.
Martina got cold and we decided to go back home even before midnight. So we experienced the year switch in the train and obviously there were very few people in the train again. I guess we could have done more, but it’s something.