I arrived back from my trip home just in time to celebrate New Year's in Japan! There is a lot going around New Year's in Japan. After dinner on December 31st, a friend and I settled in to watch all the magical TV programs. There are two shows, that I'm aware of, that are shown specially on the 31st of December.
Show 1: Kōhaku Uta Gassen ("Red vs White singing contest")
"Popular singers (and singing groups) split into two teams, women in the red team and men in the white, which then alternate while competing for the audience's heart throughout the evening. At around 11:30 pm, the final singer (or group) sings, and the audience and a panel of judges are asked to cast their votes to decide which team sang better. The winning team gets a trophy and "the winners' flag." The program ends at about 11:45 pm."
This show was really fun to watch. I got to watch all the popular artists in Japan including Arashi and Ikimono Gakari. These two groups are INSANELY popular here. In addition to pop music, some traditional singers are also invited to the contest. One enka singer was dressed like a glamorous baby crane. I looked away from the television for a moment. When I looked back, she was RIDING A GIANT CRANE complete with flapping wings. I wish I had a picture of my reaction. It was priceless. By the way, the white team won. Guy power!
Show 2: Gaki Tsuka
I'm borrowing the description of this show from someone because her explanation is priceless:
"Imagine a cold winter day (ok..no snow but still cold) in a big high school field. Imagine there are many men all in black suits and black trench coats standing in front of a big stage. On the stage imagine a chubby man dressed in a woman's military uniform (with wig, red lipstick, blush. pantyhose, heels etc). Then next to him on the stage is some white foreigner (we think he is from Holland) dressed in a military uniform with a huge crazy mustache. Now...the foreign guy is yelling in the microphone (in some language) at the men in black. He is freaking out and the guys in black are trying not to laugh. But of course they do because it is stupid. Suddenly the foreign guy says in English "out" and points at the man who is laughing. Then out of nowhere, a guy comes running out on to the field with a big black tube in his hand and hits the guy who was laughing on the butt. This keeps up for like 5 minutes- the crazy foreign guy yelling and pointing at the laughing men and then the laughing men getting their butts hit with some kind of rubber tube. The point? Try not to laugh while the crazy guy yells."
We left her apartment around 11 to join some friends for the countdown. We went to a bar called the Wookoo Bar near JR Nara. I know the tradition is visit a shrine or temple for the Countdown, but they were crowded. We ordered some expensive Belgian beers for the toast at midnight and anxiously awaited the countdown.
Cultural Stupidity: Did I forget where I was? 10 seconds to midnight, I was ready to begin the countdown. "Ten, Nine, Eigh..er..Hachi, Nana, Roku, Go, Yon, San, Nii, Ichi, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!" Yes, in my loudest voice, I began the countdown (in a crowded Japanese bar) in English. Everyone stared, but continued the countdown.
Around 1AM, my group and I made our way to Todaiji. Todaiji is the large Buddhist Temple in Nara City. 2 nights a year, the priests open the window so the Buddha Statue's face can be viewed from outside the temple. I am always in awe of Todaiji. I watched friends try to pass through the column again. I cast my 5 yen into the abyss and made a wish. I saved a deer's life by stealing away the plastic cup in its mouth. I am the hero everyone wanted, but nobody knew.
Another tradition on New Year's is to get your fortune. On New Year's, the fortunes are broken down in categories of luck. The fortune can range anywhere from no luck to (the grand daddy of them all) BIG luck. At Todaiji, I received Medium luck. Here is my exact fortune:
General Explanation: Stay honest as you are, and you will have a chance for promotion.
In Case You are Ill: You will get well soon.
A Legal Case: Things will come your way.
Trade: Profitable in both selling and buying.
Travel: Something good may happen if you travel.
A Person Whom You Wait For: The person will come sometime later.
A Thing You Have Lost: You will find it outside your place.
Competition: You will win. Be careful after you have won.
After Todaiji, we moved on to Kasuga Shrine. This place was extremely crowded. While we waited in line with the hundreds of people, we munched on yummy festival food like Karaage (fried chicken) and Mikan (sweet oranges). Once we entered the shrine, we threw our 5 yen pieces and made a wish, then bought another fortune. I got BIG LUCK!!! My Japanese friends squealed with delight. I smiled and remembered that this is the year of the Rabbit, MY YEAR. We walked around the festival grounds a little longer then retreated back to our homes (trains run all night on New Year's), away from the cold.
Big luck, year of the rabbit: keep your fingers crossed!