Monthly Archives: January 2012

New Year’s In Japan Part 3: Visiting a Temple and/or Shrine

I’m not Buddhist, nor do I practice Shintoism but if I’m in Japan at the dawn of a new year I always visit one (or several) of the temples and shrines scattered throughout the country. I love the beauty, serenity, history and traditions associated with each site.

In Tokyo the very popular Meiji shrine is my favorite. Surrounded by a forest, the shrine is a quiet oasis in the middle of the busy city. If I’m in Kyoto, I refuse to leave without a visit to the Inari Shrine, easily one of my top ten places in the world.

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New Year’s in Japan Part 2: Where To Nurse Your Hangover

Every few years I head back to Japan to ring in the New Year. While most Japanese go home and spend New Year’s Eve with their legs tucked cozily under a kotatsu, (a table with a heater underneath and shrouded with a thick blanket) eating soba (buckwheat noodles) and various other symbolic dishes with their families, I do my best to wrangle up a few good friends for a night of debauchery. I’m not a drinker. I’m not a smoker. Simply put I have no vices. But if I’m in Tokyo on New Year’s Eve I’m the girl in the corner of a smoky bar at 5am with a martini in one hand, cigarette in the other, and a line of empty shot glasses in front of her.

This may explain why I don’t drink the other 364 days of the year.

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New Year’s in Japan, Part 1: Feasting on Street Food

Japan celebrates the New Year on January 1st (not some time in late January like the Chinese). More accurately put, Japan celebrates the New Year from January 1st to the 3rd. The holiday always includes a visit to a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine (actually, most people hit both… nothing wrong with hedging your bets). And wherever large crowds of Japanese congregate, good food is never far way. During major Japanese holidays like New Year’s the streets surrounding the largest temples and shrines are filled with vendors whipping up popular street food like yakisoba (fried noodles), karaage (fried chicken), okonomiyaki (vegetable and seafood pancakes), yakitori (grilled chicken), takoyaki (doughy balls filled with octopus), chocolate covered bananas, and numerous other treats. All these delicious morsels, accompanied with the free flowing sweetened hot sake and cold Japanese beer, make for an atmosphere that’s always festive and celebratory.

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