So, New Year's is over for another year. Hopefully your hangovers have become unhung, and your short-term memory is coming back. I said, "Hopefully your hangovers have..." Oh, just forget it! Again.
New Year's is a time when it really comes home that me and Toto (and Journey, and Styx) ain't in Kansas no more. If I were single, I'm sure I could still find folk to get hammered with and do a countdown, but there's no ball falling, no "Auld Lang Syne" (except at closing time everyday in any large department store). Instead there is a holiday which has become my favorite time of the year in Japan.
On New Year's Eve, most folks eat Toshikoshi-soba, buckwheat noodles in fish stock (it's much better than it sounds) with deep-fried prawn, and watch "Kosaku Uta Gassen" on TV. Kosaku (Red & White Singing Battle) is a show which invites popular singing acts from Jpop, rock, Japanese enka and other styles and divides them into 2 teams (the Red team and the White team, hence the name - duh!) who sing their hits of the year. The whole family watches together, channel-hopping from Kosaku to one of the myriad comedy/variety specials until midnight.
Now, if you're in young love, adventurous, or just plain masochistic, you head out to the shrine. At midnight on New Year's Day. When it's bloody cold. Along with 10,000 of your best strangers. Or you can climb a mountain in order to watch the first sunrise of the year, and pray that it isn't cloudy, or you've sat out and frozen your tush all night to see - clouds. Whoopee-shit!
We wait until daylight. But first we go to the in-laws for zoni (miso soup with rice cake) and some pickled secchi foods. Then we head to the shrine, where we toss money in the collection box, ring the bell and pray for a good year. Then get a little free rice wine, and get in line to buy your New Year's fortune. Mine was top level this year, with things like "Childbirth will go easy" and "Your current love is the best possible". Good to know. I'd hate to have it say "Your current love is a friggin' mistake, bail while you can!"
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