New Years in Japan

New Years in Japan is the big holiday of the year (even Nova closes for a week!). It’s a time when people go back to their hometowns, visit their families, drink and eat lots (lots of special kinds of food too), and probably go to the shrine at midnight New Years Eve or during New Years Day.
It’s much bigger than Christmas here (or Kurismasu), mainly as this is not a christian country, but essentially a Shinto or Buddhist one (hence the shrine).
Christmas is for lovers, New Years is for family.

Any road up, we spent the time off relaxing, drinking sake and eating lots of food. Which was v. nice. On New Years Eve we watched the big music show (a 4 hour extravaganza of all the best music of the year, and kind of a girls vs. boys competition – boys nearly always win, as they did this year), then about midnight we walked up to the Ashiya shrine (a little way up the mountain) and queued up with a couple of hundred people to pray.

Good fun.

Also, in the next “city” to us (City sounds huge, and potentially far away, however it’s about 3 stops on the local train or 5 minutes on the express), Nishinomiya, they had a big Ebisu shrine festival (this is mainly for getting good luck in businesses apparently), and was essentially an excuse for hundreds (literally!) of food stalls to be set up in the streets around the shrine, selling takoyaki, yakitori, okonomiyaki, indian food or kebabs.
Again, good fun.

Each year people buy “charms” for good luck, or safe year, etc. from the shrine, and then, by a genius of marketing, the charms run out after a year and you have to return the old ones and buy new ones!
Old Charms
New Charms
They also have a big old Tuna here that people put coins on to bring good luck for the coming year.
Good Luck Tuna
Now, it didn’t smell, so possibly a fake, but I’m sure back in the day it was real. Couldn’t get close to find out, as it was pretty popular.

As you walk into the entrance of the shrine, some nice priests “purify” you (I guess that’s what they’re doing) with some white paper brushes. They looked soooo bored!
Bored Priests

There were several things I liked about this whole religious celebration thing,

a) the free sake – well cost about 10Yen, but that’s pretty cheap for a saucer of sake

b) the fair ground atmosphere, including a ghost maze, and cork gun stalls where you could win Wii’s, PS3’s and cheap worthless cards.

c) the hundreds and hundreds of food stalls as far as the eye can see

d) the shinto followers dressed in the traditional clothes walking incredibly slowly down the middle of the street to the shrine

If only other religions could have such interesting and fun celebrations.

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