Friday, December 31, 2010

お正月 (New Year)

So yesterday was New Year's Eve. And before I begin, I feel that I should point out that New Year's here is sort of a big deal. My host parents did not understand why Americans make such a big deal out of Christmas, and they kept asking me questions about American New Year. I tried to tell them that basically people just party New Year's eve, and then sleep in on New Year's. They're favorite question was "Is there anything special Americans eat on New Year's?"
Anyway, so in Japan, on New Year's eve, there is a program called Kouhaku. It is very popular, most people watch it. It started at 7:45, and went up until 11:45~ish. So in Kouhaku, there are two teams, the red team are the girls, the white team are the boys, and each team is made up of famous singers. Each team's members perform, and at the end, a vote decides the winning team. The leaders of each team are the emcees. The leader of the red team was Nao Matsushita, who is a pianist. The leader of the white team was Arashi (*_*). My goodness, I could talk about Kouhaku forever, because I watched the entire thing.... but I won't say everything I want to, because that would just be boring. I will, however, say that I had no idea Enka was still so popular! I'd say about half of the program was Enka singing. (for those of you who don't know what enka is, I'm not sure how to explain it, so you should look it up on youtube or something. It is old people music). In addition, I was extremely happy with both Arashi and AKB48's performances. And Ohno as Kaibutsu-kun. (I died. I love Kaibutsu-kun!) I watched the whole thing in the tatami room under the Kotatsu with my host mom. My host dad got drunk, as is the custom anywhere on new year's eve. He was watching TV in the other room, because he said he didn't want to watch people sing. Even so, he would come into our room periodically carrying his sake, and some food, and he would offer me food, and then start singing and dancing along to the music he didn't know. It was ridiculous. My host mom was like "you're eating too much and drinking too much!" and "You are so loud/annoying, go back into the other room and watch your tv!" And then he would turn to me and be like "did you hear what she just said?" and I would point to the tv, and say "Arashi" or something like that. My host dad also kept trying to point to Nino because he knows that Nino is my favorite member of Arashi, but he could never get it right. He was like "they all look the same!" lol.
Oh, also, we took a break in the middle of koukaku to eat new year's soba. I think it's a little different from normal soba in that the noodles are longer, to represent longevity, people eat this on new year's eve.
Anyway, after Kouhaku ended, my host mom and I walked to the neighborhood shrine. On the way there we heard the ringing of temple bells. On New Year at temples, a bell is rung 108 times for humans' 108 desires. Also, when it turned midnight we saw some fireworks go off, but we couldn't see them very well. When we got to the shrine, there was a long line, but my host mom said it wasn't as crowded as she thought it would be. There were bonfire things to light the way, and provide warmth. There was what looked like a very large wreath made of brown, dried plants of some sort, and one had to walk through it to get to the shrine. My host mom kept trying to explain to me what we had to do when we got to this thing, but eventually gave up, and just told me to follow her. She told me to make sure I stepped over the bottom with my left foot first, and then we turned left, went through the loop again (again stepping with the left foot first) and then went right. We made this figure 8 three times, and then proceeded forward in the line. When we finally got to the shriney shrine, we did the usual shriney stuff. Throw in a 50 yen coin, bow twice, clap twice, pray, bow again. Then we went around the line to this tent thing, where they were giving away amazake and I think sake also. My host mom had to explain to me like 20 times that there wasn't any alcohol in amazake. She was like "yes, there is sake in the name, but that's just because it's made of the same stuff, kids drink this stuff! Taiki and Miyu love it!" It was really lumpy though, and also really sweet. I only drank about half of mine. After that, we went home, and went to sleep.
I was so upset when I was woken up this morning at 9:00, and called down to eat an unappetizing breakfast... My host parents explained to me that everything eaten on oshougatsu has a meaning. I had soup with mochi in it (forget what it's called) and black beans for breakfast, and we had to eat them with special new year's wooden chopsticks. After my host sister and her gang came over, we had a tea time, and ate the manju my host mom had bought for today (pictured at left). Aren't they cute? Myself not being much a fan of the squishy desserts (or squishy foods in general) I was not so much looking forward to the manju, but it was actually really delicious!
For lunch they pulled out the osechi ryouri, which is always eaten on new year's. My host mom told me that back in the day, all shops and everything would be closed on new year's so people would have to get their food ready ahead of time, which is why they made osechi ryouri. Nowadays, she explained, there are convenience stores, so it's not as important, but most people still do it out of tradition. Of course, there isn't much I can eat, and nothing I will eat in these boxes, but they are still pretty. I just didn't eat much today. My host mom bought this set for about (13,000 yen), and all of the food in this set as well represents something, it came with a booklet for those who don't know what everything represents (which I would guess is everybody, because my host parents kept consulting the booklet).
After lunch, my host mom, host sister, Taiki, Miyu, and I went to karaoke. It was my first time, and it was a lot of fun. Of course, my host sister is an actual singer, and my host mom is good too, so it was kind of embarrassing singing in front of them. But they kept singing kids songs for Taiki and Miyu, so it was a lot of fun.
Oh, I forgot to mention Otoshidama! Otoshidama are gifts given at New Year's, well, they used to be toys and stuff, but now it's just money. In this picture are the Otoshidama I got, the one on the left is from my host sister and her husband, and the one on the right is from my host parents.


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