Sunday, January 9, 2011

Winter vacation and celebrating New Year’s in Japan

From New Years in Japan 2010-11
Semester one is done. While I’m still unsure of the results of my fall semester course grades, I think finals went well, but I’m not very concerned. I put myself through a rigorous course selection (per usual), and I’m determined to not repeat that level of stress next semester. I plan to take less strenuous classes such as traditional calligraphy and woodblock printing.

Our university’s study abroad department has arranged the schedule so that it matches what is standard to universities in the US. Japanese students’ school year begins in late September and goes until the beginning of August with breaks more frequently scattered throughout. We study abroad students get to indulge in an extra couple of weeks of winter vacation, picking back up mid-January.

What does that mean for vacation then? Well, I have been granted a few opportunities to photograph concerts, putting to use my DSLR. I also began attending a few shows for artists I have followed for a several years, and each has proven more than satisfactory. I am not taking time to travel for the time being on account of several concerts in close proximity. Plans have been made, however, for our vacation in early February to go to the Snow Festival in Sapporo, one of the most notorious festivals in Japan. Look forward to my photos of the massive snow sculptures. (I will be making an effort to visit other hot spots like Osaka, Kyoto and possibly Okinawa. I also will be attending field trips to Ise Shrine and Nara during next semester)

Being able to celebrate family and tradition for Christmas was comforting, and for which I am very grateful. I received a few shipments containing gifts, all wrapped, and several holiday cards.

I was especially glad to partake in my grandpa’s yearly reading of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas thanks to a recordable book, which I will treasure. The only thing I lacked was a chili dinner and homemade hot cocoa with marshmallows.

From New Years in Japan 2010-11
Christmas in Japan is a commercial holiday and mostly a day couples go on dates. Christmas is largely overshadowed by New Year’s celebrations and most companies and stores still operate on Christmas, so few friends and I went ice skating for three hours. New Year’s, however, is a family celebration. New Year’s is the time for customary gifts for Japanese, most often large and expensive food items, so we’ve had quite the diverse dining selections over the past couple weeks (from giant crab that arrived via post to chicken sashimi (raw chicken)). Definitely trashing a comfort zone or three with the chicken thing which I hope to not repeat in the future.

From New Years in Japan 2010-11
We went to the country home, somewhere in Gifu prefecture (2 hours away) for mochitsuki, making delicious pounded rice snacks. My host brother and I got there after they were already finished, so we just ate a big lunch by the indoor fire pit and I returned to the city a day earlier than my family so I could attend Dir en grey’s New Year’s live (I got a ticket via auction the day of the show). It was excellent.

On the 2nd we had visitors over for a steak dinner, but steak was hardly the most expensive food that night. We had crab, fish sashimi and sea cucumber. Everything was quite delicious.

On the 3rd my friends and I spent the day celebrating the New Year since we weren’t prepared enough to arrange a “forget the old year” party before the turnover. We met up at Atsuta Shrine to partake in a customary beginning of the year visit, offering, and determine our yearly fate. I’m not supposed to travel or slack in school and work, but I’ll get better from any illnesses. I’m also in the midst of good things happening. We then had lunch in Yagoto, bought some drinks and booked a karaoke room for free-time use, meaning we could use the room as long as we want between 12-8pm for 1000 yen/person (about $12). We hadn’t anticipated using the room for the full 8 hours, but we absolutely did. I’d call that an accomplishment. I plan on doing it again.

The weeks following New Year’s are some of the best for sales, so my friends and I have been window shopping a lot the last several days. We’ve been going to lots of ritzy department stores (which are actually like US malls, not department stores), where even sale items are too expensive for us to even consider buying, but it’s entertaining. It’s also nicer on the wallet, not being tempted to drop obscene amounts of cash.

I hope to finish up a few more posts analyzing differences between the US and Japan during the remainder of my break, so please look forward to those.

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