Last night was interesting and different from a normal New Year celebration for us. First we watched the popular year-end televised song festival that The Professor was dying to watch. It was the 66th (!) year of it and it’s called the Kōhaku Uta Gassen. Basically, it's the girl groups versus boy groups (girls won this year)! It featured everything from J-pop groups to old-time Enka singers thrown in for the old folks' benefit. Can't say I cared for any of the music or groups--but it is a New Year's tradition here and equivalent to watching Dick Clark's NYE show. It is definitely an Only-in-Japan experience.
The show ended at 11:45pm so we then walked over to the nearby shrines. The first one was low key--a few vendors selling food and new year's charms, and a somewhat small crowd of people lining up to do their prayers. One booth was giving away freshly made mochi--which is pounded rice that becomes glutinous. It's like chewing on a small, but squishy rubber ball. You have to swallow in little bites or you can choke to death (I discovered). Anyway, it's part of the good luck tradition so I chewed on a few of them. Here the one on the left is covered in dry tofu and the second one is covered in red bean paste and was surprisingly tastier than the other.
Then we walked over to a second shrine area we had discovered earlier in the day quite by accident when we were taking a neighborhood stroll to enjoy the sunshine. It turned out to be more fun because they were playing traditional Japanese music--three small drums, a flute and some type of bells--and they had a lion dancer. I really liked the music and the dancer as well as they had a few small fires going to boil the water for mochi and for light sources--as well as a big fire pit to burn the charms for the new year. It felt like a giant campground.
We passed on the mochi at this place but they were also passing out small cups of sake so we had one of those. All of these things are meant to bring good luck for the coming year. So we should be set!
New Year's is a family celebration and we saw lots of little kids. There were quite a few people at this shrine area--but probably no more than 50 or so. I was glad we stuck to the neighborhood shrines. Apparently, the famous ones are crowded with people--so much so, that you can't move (we're talking hundreds of thousands). That would not have been pleasant.
Now the next few days will be quiet as the locals take time off to spend with family. I'm interested to see what is open during this time period. Since the whole week is considered a holiday, it may remain quiet for awhile.