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Tuesday, January 1

New Years in Japan

Another holiday spent in a land where nothing is like home. Japan has been gearing up hard core for a week now with shops selling decorations and pine everywhere, from your local grocery store to the mall to the street corners of every city.

New Years… the family holiday for Japan. It’s like Christmas is for Americans; everything shuts down and people stay in to enjoy time with the ones they love over a big bowl of soba. This is a wonderful sentiment, but it becomes truly problematic for the American looking for a good bar close by to hang out and enjoy the festivities. Sure, Tokyo has some haunts, but I hardly wanted to take a train that would be shut down at midnight, leaving us to find other, more expensive, means home. After much indecision, we opted for the stay at home Japanese holiday. Some friends came over, and we partook of the New Years buffalo wings as our own little twist on the night.

There were some things I did just like the locals. I hung a Japanese New Year’s decoration on our door on the 29th, only to find out from a Japanese friend the next day that I jumped the gun. The point of the pine hung at the entrance to property is apparently to tell God (I imagine ‘God’ being in the Shinto-Buddhist sense) that “Hey, God! Here is the place to come!” Then a subsequent decoration is hung on the doorway telling God, “Hey, God! This is the door to come thru!” And here is the most important part… before hanging these decorations, you spend New Years Eve day cleaning and preparing your house to be pure for God to enter in the New Year. This is where I seriously faltered. My house was supposed to be clean? Oops.

Another thing I discovered all too late, you are supposed to hang these decorations in a proper way, with a proper hanger and such. I don’t think by proper, they would include my fingerprinted, multiple slices of Scotch tape. That would be ‘ni’ in oops. But since I lacked this knowledge prior to hanging my New Years decorations… well… live and learn.

A tradition from my hometown is to eat pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. Should you choose to skip this meal, rumor has it you will be haunted by bad luck for the coming year. Besides really enjoying this meal, I never want to test this theory, so we did perform this tradition. I’m sure our Japanese neighbors loved the smell of fermenting cabbage for a day. Yum.

With my time here in Japan being filled primarily by one man and no big family, at least this year, I had a lot of free time to take stock of my life and do a bit of reflecting. This past year has been a mix of emotion. We’ve been here in Japan for a year and a half and I still have moments where I miss home desperately, others where I feel like I’ve always lived here in the Far East, and others where every day is filled with wonder and newness. While this may be like general daily life for most, I had lost a lot of the first and last of those feelings. Making the decision to move halfway around the world has afforded me opportunities to really reflect on this life lived and not to just live it, hopefully something I will keep with me in the future.

Enough with my inane thoughts of self-professed clarity, some of the best moments from 2007…

1. Sitting on a store stoop, lost in the middle of a huge and unknown Bangkok while rain poured from the heavens like I have never seen before.

2. While snorkeling in Kauai, the feeding fish frenzy when my friend squeezed bits of soggy bread from a sandwich bag that led to ensuing moments of awe, freak out and laughter.

3. Dinner at my friend’s home in Arlington where a majority of my closest and most loved girlfriends gathered to share a night with me. Just sitting in the room with all of them made me feel love like only the truly blessed experience.

4. Discovering that there is true love behind the friendship of my first friend here, Fumie, when she showed me a mother’s touch in a moment of true need.

5. Careening through the snowmobile sledding course in Sapporo, when the icy wind that caused my throat to ache couldn’t stop the laughter.

6. Taking a long, late afternoon summer walk with my parents, my husband and our chocolate, black and yellow labs.

7. Sitting at the top of one of the world’s highest ferris wheels with my cousins, Chris and Erika.

8. Chasing geishas in Kyoto with my mom, uncle and husband as we tried to get a good picture, while the girls so easily eluded us.

9. Dining on Hida Takayama beef with newfound friends from all over the world – China, Russia, New Zealand, Poland – and watching the moment with awe as we all learned to share with one another despite cultural and language differences that typically would keep us apart.

10. Hearing my dad say how proud he was of me – not once – but more times than in my entire life.

But I can’t just look back or I would miss the point of serious reflecting. I’m not so into New Year’s resolutions, because I have never found a serious reason to commit to something which will seemingly be deemed unimportant the following year. Instead, it is more about short term and long term goals for me. The short term list (and most like a resolution as the intention is to succeed within the year) – finish my long worked on bachelors, learn more Japanese to the point of better fluency, conquer making pad thai at home, learn upright styles of Ikebana, learn Japanese ink painting, drink more water to eliminate those damn stones, take the perfect picture of Mt. Fuji, and last but not least, visit China, Australia, South Korea, and make more trips to local destinations including Hakone, Hiroshima, Harajuku, Takao, Odabai, the Monkey Park. A list that is all quite doable within a year. The long term list – visit all continents… except Antarctica, visit all 50 states (25 down), continually try new things, learn Spanish to complete fluency, read 30 new books each year, watch all of the best movies of classic Hollywood, let go of my materialistic needs, become more patient, have children, exercise at least four times a week, return to creating art, let go of silly regrets and let the past be the past, eat healthier on a daily basis, learn to dress like a Gilmore girl, drink more water, save more money and pay off credit card debt, skydive, learn to swim without my fears, practice and master yoga, learn to knit… more than just a scarf, find my dream home with a large front porch, wooden floors, a library with floor to ceiling bookshelves in dark wood, and stained glass windows. Come what may in this fickle life, it’s good to have a plan.

May your New Year be filled with awe and inspiration. And may you fulfill all of your plans, and most importantly, your dreams. Happy 2008.


Mike S said...

Happy New Year!! I remember hosting a party one New Year's Eve and awakening the next day to find my farmyard a virtual parking lot. Seems everyone walked to the bus stop and train station to catch the last conveyance. It was 3 days before all the vehicles were retrieved:)

Anonymous said...

Maybe having the dreams is more important than fulfilling them?

Happy 2008,