Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's in Japan EDIT: Now with pictures of New Year's Food

Cutting straight to the chase.

The 30th of December, 2011, Year of the Rabbit: Making mochi (i.e., I participated in mochitsuki)!!

Mochi (Japanese) is a Japanese rice cake made of glutinous rice (not to be confused with gluten) pounded into paste and molded into shape. In Japan it is traditionally made in a ceremony called mochitsuki.[1] While also eaten year-round, mochi is a traditional food for theJapanese New Year and is commonly sold and eaten during that time.

Thanks, Wikipedia.

This is probably the closest equivalent to an American BBQ in Japan. Besides making mochi, there was plenty of meat, vegetables, fish, et cetera to eat.

So there's a lot of steps to make mochi, and it starts by taking a hot rice cake mold out from the oven and pounding it with hammers.

There's mochi in that wooden basin above the fire! It's then moved to the bowl (wikipedia says it's an usu) pictured above.

Everyone enjoys a good cook out.

After the rice cake has been pounded by the hammers and is softened and ready to be shaped by hand, the girls took over. We took apart the mochi and took about a handful, flattened it, placed in bean paste with a spoon, and then rolled it up...

So that it looked like this.

Working hard or hardly working? OHOHOHOH

I started freaking out about how good the thing I was eating was...

This is what I was eating. It's rice cakes know what, I don't know, but it was delicious.

Mochi is in THAT bucket.

And then placed here. Pound that mochi!

Then I got to try. It was hard, but fun.

Me and Valerie!

Afterwards, we went to Sakura and Hikaru's house to play video games and watch Laputa: Castle in the Sky (Miyazaki). 

I took pictures on the way.

This is known as a Japanese Mansion.

It was my host mom's birthday, so later that night we went out to a restaurant and ate some delicious udon! And then we went to a Japanese onsen (my second time) and host mom, host baby (first time), and I relaxed in 43 degree Celsius (109 degree F) water outside. It was awesome.

December 31st, 2011:
I woke up at 6 in the morning (!!!!!!!!!!) to go with host dad to a market to buy food and alcohol (guess which one I think is more important) for New Year's.

The market was about an hour's drive away, and it was a market next to the ocean, so after we were done with the highway it was a beautiful drive.

Pictured: Japan at about 7 30 AM

So, our destination was a huge market with a zillion people who all also got up at 6 (!!!!!) to get food before it ran out. Food consisting of octopus, a plethora of fish, beef, squid, crab, et cetera. Some of which were still alive and in tanks, mind you. Host dad had to push his way through people and we did a lot of waiting in order to get the grand prize of fish and more fish. Afterwards we had some soup they were selling in the parking lot and then went to more markets.

We went to some other outdoor markets, picked up alcohol, grabbed some lunch (beef on rice with raw egg mixed in, add a bit of seasoning and green tea on the side, it was delicious) and got the car washed while watching a show about cheerleaders (in Japan the built-in GPS frequently doubles as a television, which isn't safe?). 

Then we came back to the house and napped because we were dead tired (it was 1 PM or so at this point). At 3 30 I woke up and went for a jog. When I got back to the apartment building, I climbed 22 stories of stairs to watch the sunset fall over Nagoya. And it was simply breathtaking. I will no doubt do this again with a camera.

Afterwards we ate dinner at home, and then the Japanese New Year's began: by watching tv.

That's right, from 9PM until 12AM there is a New Year's Special that everyone in Japan stays home to watch. We drank alcohol - lots, lots of alcohol - and ate soba (buckwheat) noodles (tradition), and watched TV. The Special consisted of pretty much every famous singer in Japan singing famous songs and popular songs for three hours. It was really very interesting, the stage they used was amaaaazing, and the theme was mostly, "Do your best, Japan," in reference to the disaster on March 11th. This year was a very hard year for Japan and everyone did their best to encourage one another via song. Everyone was really talented and I wrote down the names of a lot of songs and artists that I liked. All in all fun and a little fuzzy.

At precisely 12:01, a minute after the TV showed a gong at the temple being rung, we all retired to bed, thoroughly exhausted.

To then wake up to...

January 1st, 2012, Year of the Dragon:

(2015 is year of the sheep, btw. My year! YESS I WILL RULE ALL THE THINGS)

Breakfast started with soup with mochi and other vegetables placed inside, and there was also a really sweet mochi drink along with it that tasted like yuzu, which, "is a citrus fruit and plant originating in East Asia. It is believed to be a hybrid of sour mandarin and Ichang papeda."
I would say it tasted like hot lemonade but apparently lemons are sour and yuzu are sweet?

Yeah fun fact, I actually never learned the difference between things that are sweet, sour, or bitter, so I mix the three up all the time. I guess that's really weird or something? They all taste the same to me. 

Okay anyway.

So after our breakfast (we also drank sake. This continued for the rest of the day, BUT I'M NOT DRUNK NOW) (editor's note: started this sentence and never finished it) host dad, Valerie and I went to the nearby temple. 

The temple I live about 10 minutes' walk from is Atsuta Srhine, and it is one of the three major shrines in all of Japan. Atsuta Shrine is home of one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan. Central to the Shinto significance of Atsuta Shrine is the sacred sword which is understood to be a gift from Amaterasu Ōmikami, goddess of the sun and universe. The other two treasures are a mirror and a jewel, by the way, located in Ise Shrine in Mie Prefecture (been there as well, the day it was raining) and Kokyo Imperial Palace in Tokyo, respectively. 

The calm before the storm.

People waiting to wash their hands, it was super 
SO MANY PEOPLE. Host Dad said that on the night of the 31st, up to one million people, half the population of Nagoya, go to Atsuta Shrine. We opted to go the next day.

Valerie hates crowds, and I made her go because IT'S JAPANESE CULTURE YOU HAVE TO.

This is me being continually excited and filled with energy.

Waiting and taking pictures.

Host dad was smart and led us up to the right side of the HUGE crowd that was standing in front of this tarp laid out on the shrines steps. We threw in our coins and paid our respects and wished for a good new year, while bowing and such and so forth.

Afterwards we picked out fortunes (I got the second best one, awww yeeee!) and tied them up with everyone else's so that they could come true!

After that there were festival stands with food and games, and me, Valerie and host dad tried this impossible shooting game and didn't win. I am proud to announce that of the five tries I got, I hit the desired target four times, but since it didn't actually fall off the shelf, I failed. Still, the fact that I can aim with a gun impresses me. 

Afterwards we all got dressed up and headed over to host dad's mom's and dad's house and met up with host dad's little brother (total babe, btw, and also probably like ten years older than me. He lives in America, I think Ohio or something? Interesting, interesting...), uncle and aunt, obviously mom and dad, sister, brother-in-law and the kids, and yeah. 

We had a feast, basically. Raw fish, vegetables, shabushabu and sake and bingo and sake and mochi and beer and it was huge. Bigger and more expensive than an America Thanksgiving by at least three times. When I went shopping for today with host dad two days ago, he dropped at least 600 dollars on alcohol and beef and fish, et cetera. And he said that this year wasn't even as grand as it usually is because they have host baby and he has to save up for her. Which made me get real confused because it was an AMAZING dinner and the fact that he thinks it wasn't as grand as it could have been makes me sad.

About six hours after getting there (I won white chocolate in bingo, btw, and when I mentioned that I miss cheese from America, Host Dad's mom went to the fridge and pulled out these little packs of Colby Jack and Cheddar and YES and I ate three. I miss CHEEEEEEEEEEESE), we headed home. Host dad and I went to a hot spring again and it was awesome. This time I got to watch TV while soaking since it wasn't that crowded. SO RELAXING. Getting way too comfortable being naked in front of strangers. And then I got ice cream afterwards and my skin was all still warm and damn bathing is great.

And now I've finished writing this post and I will have yet more to update you on this New Year's in a few days time! I am busybusybusy but I definitely need to keep logging my memories away because remembering this all without writing it down is possibly impossible!


And may you have a good Year of the Dragon.

Edit: Yesterday we went to visit Host mom's parents and sisters about an hour train ride away from here and ate lots of delicious food, as New Year's lasts from the 1st to the 3rd of January. Afterwards we went to Host Dad's too-cold Grandma's house and had duck and blowfish soup (those are two separate soups, btw) while I quietly shivered my ass off. Unfortunately no cheese to report on, but I would like to mention that 60% of my stay in Japan has mostly been, "What the hell am I eating?" and New Year's was no exception. But to my relief, it turns out the people I was with didn't really know either, and they were Japanese, so there you have it.

Then today I went shopping with Valerie because there are huge sales for New Year's. I bought three sweaters and called it a day. I get tired fast.

So there you have it, that is what New Year's in Japan is like. It was a busy busy adventure and I am exhausted.

OH one last thing; in Japan if you dream about one of three things on the night of the first, your first dream of the new year, you'll have a lucky year. These three things are Mount Fuji, a hawk or sparrow or some kind of bird, and eggplant, from luckiest to not as lucky but still lucky. I dreamt of deep-fried eggplant, and I was eating it. That means this year is going to be *lucky*!!!

I'm looking forward to that.

Edit: FOOD

January 1st, breakfast: Mochi in soup

Not mochi but I ate like three. Sweet and delicious.


Some raw fish to top it off. Yum, yum! Have I mentioned that people frequently eat raw eggs in Japan? They do. I have. It's tasty.

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