Sunday, January 6, 2008

New Years (Part one)

I got back from Japan a few days before New Years. I wanted to see what new years was like in Japan. Before the countdown, I was a little disappointed because the overwhelming majority of my friends had left Tokyo. My Japanese friends all went back to their hometowns and most of my American/foreign friends all were back in America or their home country. I also thought I had concrete plans, but they ended up falling through the day before.

No worries, I did some research and found that Zojoji temple is THE place to go in Tokyo for New Years. It's right near Tokyo Tower, and in my post about my visit there, I mention it, but I had no idea what it was called. Now that I did some research, I found out not only the name, but also the fact that it was built in 1393 and moved to its present location in 1598. It has been built and rebuilt several times, with the main structure that was built in 1974 and the main gate which dates back to 1622.

Anyways, I went to a friend's house, did a little drinking, and we headed off to Zojoji. It was quite obvious that we were not alone. On our way, I heard a lot of people gasp quite loudly. I turned my head and noticed Tokyo Tower had turned a shade of blue.

As I've never seen anything but normal white lights on the tower, much I was surprised like everyone else. If you compare to this post, the same gate looks almost deserted before, and now the sidewalks are so crowded, walking is quite difficult.

As a little side note, I apologize for my grainy pictures. My camera phone delivers grainy pictures with low light and my regular camera gives me hopelessly blurry pictures without a tripod or steady surface. In this case, I opted for grainy over blurry.

As we were approaching the gate, we saw the wave of people headed towards the temple.

It was getting close to midnight and I was worried that we wouldn't even fit in there. Also if you compare

But we made it in with just a few moments to spare before the actual countdown.

The crowd was so thick, it was impossible to move. When the clock struck midnight, a loud cheer filled the air and a wave of balloons were released. It was quite a powerful and memorable experience.

It was amazing to see this temple right in front of Tokyo Tower. It's just a constant reminder of how well tradition and modernization are blended in Japan.

After the count down, a lot of people left, but since I was at a temple during the new year, I decided to be one of the people who waited in line.

To me, it didn't seem like a long wait, but there was an amazing number of people. As we were waiting, we were handed a hot, sweet milky-looking beverage my roommate told me is called Amazake. Apparently, it's a byproduct from making sake, and while not my favorite drink, it wasn't bad, just overly sweet and a little thick. It was terribly hot when they handed it, and someone bumped my arm, causing this hot liquid to go everywhere, which quickly turned into a terribly sticky mess. It was an interesting experience anyways.

I did the whole temple thing. I know you throw a coin and bow and clap a certain number of times and then make a wish or prey or something. I don't quite know the amount of claps and bows, nor do I fully understand the reasons behind it, but that's fine. It's not my religion or history, so I don't mind not understanding.

The inside was absolutely gorgeous. I normally am not allowed to take pictures inside temples, but as I didn't see any "No Pictures" signs and I saw other people with their cameras out, I felt it was okay to snap a few.

After leaving the temple, I really wanted to check out this big fire I could see for quite a distance. Besides being a nice way to warm my body, it seemed quite interesting.

And it was. As a polite bystander was eager to explain to me in her best English, this was a fire to burn old good luck charms.

After that, we visited a big bell that was being rung. It seemed that this night, anyone who wanted to could ring the bell. I really wanted to, but there was a massive line of boyscouts and I didn't feel like waiting for what would have probably been over an hour.

I did find out that the bell was built in 1673 and weighs 15 tons and is still rung twice a day.

After a few drinks, it was time to head home. It seemed that the train was full of partiers on their way home.

Two last images to leave you with are Tokyo Tower.

I hope everyone has an amazing 2008 and I am looking forward with great anticipation towards what this year holds for me.

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