Amongst the usual reasons for enjoying holidays, I have a rather odd reason for loving New Years in Japan: it is the only time of year where the whole country is suddenly inundated with traditional music. Since I play and adore hogaku, it is a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by it.
Besides the shopping areas, where the fight for the best fukubukuro rages on, the rest of the city is quiet, the trains empty. And in the distance you can hear the drums and flute of a matsuri bayashi ensemble, a cheerful sound with strong Chinese rhythms and tones.
While slowly boiling out all the extra calories at the local sento (I hope), Miyagi's famous piece for koto and flute, Haru no Umi, trickles like silver through the steamy air, followed by a series of other beautiful koto arrangements.
New Years was a nice, low-key house party followed by hatsumode at our local shrine, hidden on the opposite hill. I tried my hand at making some osechi (on the left), which actually came out quite well! Wave-chan's mother also made me vegetarian osechi (the much more impressive set on the right).
The atmosphere at the shrine was convivial, aided by the free cups of moonshiney sake, everyone squealing in delight or dismay at the fortunes in their omikuji (apparently in my case failure will come from an unexpected quarter, my chances of snagging a husband are very high, and if any health issues arise I should consult with the kami... good to know?).
Every year that I have been in Japan I have bought one fukubukuro of accessories (since the likelihood of clothes fitting properly is so very, very remote), and this year was no exception. After that expedition, I got out at Gakugeidaigaku on a whim, to walk the quiet streets and preview interesting places... of course, I will have to go back when they are open!