In the early afternoon Tom and Martin and I spent a very pleasant few hours traipsing around Meiji Shrine drinking Tiramisu latte, and taking in the general ambience of the preparations for New Years Eve in Tokyo. Since 1873, when the Japanese adopted the Gregorian calendar in place of the Chinese lunar version, the New Year has been celebrated on the 1st January, and it is one of the most important of the annual festivals here in Japan. Traditionally many Japanese people will head to a Buddhist temple, to hear a giant bell being rung 108 times at midnight, the 108 strikes representing the 108 human sins in the Buddhist belief; ringing the bell aims to get rid of the these worldly desires regarding sense and feeling in every Japanese citizen. Thus, in keeping with Japanese tradition, we went to a British pub. There was a large group of us, including two genuine sumo wrestlers (who have to always be dressed in full traditional garb, and who whilst incredibly genteel were quite literally the size of boulders), and we had a great time singing Auld Lang Syne and telling everyone that I was an English prince. I even got a marriage proposal; unfortunately this was from a drunken Japanese man, but hey what a start to the New Year.
One of the other major traditions associated with the Japanese New Year festival is to do with the first time that you do something. Two of the most important are: Hatsuhinode, the first sunrise of the year, and Hatsumōde, the first trip to a shrine or temple. At about 01:00 we headed to the nearby Kameido Tenjin Shrine and queued for about half an hour to make our first visit to a shrine. Kameido Tenjin Shrine itself is beautiful and well known for its Drum Bridge, turtles and also ghosts, thankfully though the only transparent entity were my hands in the freezing cold. After our visit I bought a charm for good luck with my writing and then also purchased a fortune. As luck would have it, it turns out that I will not be rich, will have to work hard for all of my (probably limited) success, and am prone to contagious diseases, smashing. The trains run all night on New Year’s Eve, and so it was pretty straightforward to get home, getting to bed at just before 04:00. The last time that I stayed up this late I was probably still a teenager, and was almost certainly drunk. Thankfully these days I am in much better shape, and the only thing that I will have to worry about tomorrow is the constant risk of contagious diseases.