I went home for Christmas 2016, my first time back in the USA after almost a full year and a half (17 months) of living abroad. Basically, I spent those two weeks travelling from place to place (I hit three states!), catching up with everyone I haven’t seen in the past 17 months, and eating all the food. Highlights included burritos with real sour cream, Wawa everything, bacon, and pizza.
After returning to Japan and resuming work on January 4th, a coworker rushed over and demanded to see photos — as she does after all my trips — and I realized that I really only had three pictures from the USA to show her:
My family, my best friend since 2nd grade, and my cat. And they were all taken on the same night. I guess I was too busy catching up with everyone to think that, “Oh, we need to take a picture together!” So unfortunately I missed multiple opportunities of capturing the moment with my grandmother, my cousins, my college roommates…
Luckily, I remembered how to snap photos once I arrived back in Japan for New Years.
J and I had a plan for New Years in Tokyo, you see. As always, we planned to do EVERYTHING, and of course it didn’t work out; but I was impressed by how much we actually did in three days.
- We ate soba on New Years Eve (no photo to show you, sorry).
2. We climbed Mt. Takao to see the first sunrise of the New Year — Ehhh, we actually ditched part of this plan. We read online that Mt. Takao is so freaking crowded that police close the top of the mountain around 3 a.m. because there’s already too many people huddled at the top, waiting to see the sunrise. 3 in the morning. That would’ve meant leaving our hotel around 1 a.m. to catch a train and get hiking, to maybe have the chance of glimpsing the sunrise from the peak hours later. Maybe. It sounded too cold, too exhausting, and too uncomfortable to us, so instead, we decided to start hiking up at 7 a.m., (the time everyone had gotten their fill of pictures and was heading down the mountain) and had a relatively uncrowded January 1st experience. It was a bright, clear morning, so we had lots of chances to wave hello to Mt. Fuji.
3. 初詣 (Hatsumode) or First Temple Visit of the New Year — this we accomplished on Mt. Takao, too. We waited in a little line and did the whole incense, clap, and bow tradition — our prayer for the new year. No one ever seems to mind that an obvious foreigner like me is participating, although the kids tend to stare curiously.
4. Go to Tokyo Disney Sea — Yes, on January 1st, we climbed a mountain to the west of Tokyo in the early hours of the new year, took an eastern-bound train across the entire city to Chiba Prefecture in the afternoon, and enjoyed Tokyo Disney Sea for 7 hours. It was magical. It was crowded. It was worth it. But I will say that the two of us fell asleep on all three of the trains home after Disney Sea. In that night, we perfected the Japanese ability to fall asleep on the train and magically wake up as soon as your stop is called — J and I were that exhausted.
5. We went to Kamakura on January 2nd — this was a bit of a mistake. Apparently Kamakura is one of the THE places to go for New Years and trains were packed! We visited the Giant Buddha (not as impressive as the ones in Ibaraki and Nara to be honest), walked around one of the temples, and ate fresh たこせんべ (Octopus Cracker) made with several small octopus coated in a flour-based mixture and crushed/cooked into a thin cracker. After all of that, we took the train to Enoshima to see the sunset. You can’t see it in the picture I chose, but Fuji’s silhouette also loomed off to the east.
All in all, it was a pretty successful New Year! We didn’t do everything, but we never can. Here are the two things on our list that we did not accomplish:
- Eat 御節 (Osechi), or traditional New Year’s food. It’s bloody expensive, though, and we didn’t feel like spending the money. Instead, we ate Thai food in Shinjuku.
- Buy a Lucky Bag from somewhere — Japan doesn’t really do sales, so Lucky Bags are the only time to get deals. Basically, shops will compile big bags of clothes / accessories / electronics / food — anything that they have extras of — and they’ll sell these bags for way cheaper than the original cost of all the contents of the bag. Most clothing stores sell bags for 10,800 yen (roughly $108) but the total price of all the clothes in the bag will end up being anywhere from 30,000 – 40,000 yen ($300-$400). I’ve heard the electronic stores’ lucky bags are insanely sought-after, as you can imagine!