Saturday, December 31, 2005

Yoio Nen O

"yoio nen o" I believe is the Japanese new year's greeting. I haven't been able to contact anyone who can verify that, though. I used to know it, I'm certain that Waka-sensei taught it to me on the trip where we went to Kamakura to see the giant Buddha. I knew it because I've said it people in Japan before.

New Year's is a significant holiday in Japan. It's the winter one. Everything shuts down, making it eerily empty and quiet. The way Christmas can during certain hours of the day. (Okay, I have to admit, that most of my memories of Niihama are of it being eerily quiet and shut down because I was coming home after 8:00 pm.)

It's strange, isn't it? It's not like a year feels different. It's not like you wake up January 1st, knowing that a new year is here because there's a taste of it in the air. For most of us, weeks will pass by while we still write the old year down.

Still, we imbue the day with meaning. We hope and promise that this year will be the year. Or at least it will be better.

I don't always look at years as the date. You know January 1st to December 31st. I often judge years by my age. September 19th to September 18th. For example, my 21st year was one of the hardest and most meaningful. But those events spilled eight months into what most people would consider the "next year."

Looking at it this way, it's easier for me to example why it wasn't 2005 that was awful. It's just been a horrible beginning to my 24th year.

2005 saw me graduate, go to see KT in England, accept a job and move to California.

But in my 24th year, I've lost my maternal great-grandmother and my paternal grandmother. I've been pulled from the safety net of my friends and acquaintances that build up after seven years in the same town, and left to flounder in the biggest city I've ever lived in.

I've had to grow up a little more. (Finally some might say.)

But still, we can hope, for that is what this season tries to impress upon us: hope. The hope that somehow, by throwing away an old calendar, we can start our lives anew.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Meri Kurisumasu

Now, being a mainly Shinto-Buddhist nation, there's really no reason for Christmas in Japan. This "Jesus" kid doesn't play into it at all. They have latched onto Santa-san, who leaves presents for the younger children.

But what do the older couples do to celebrate presents?

Well, it's rumored that Tokyo Disneyland is a popular place to spend the day. Usually you and your significant other will go out to dinner, eat some fluffy cake, and then have sex.

That's right: eat cake and then have sex.

My friend Yukiko tried to explain it to me once as couples going out for dinner and exchanging presents. You know, like Valentine's Day.

It was only after I was in Japan for a few months that one of the girlfriends of a fellow native teacher expressed to us how upset she was that her boyfriend was going back home for Christmas. You see, she'd have no one to eat cake and have sex with on Christmas Day.

And it's that simple. Forget the angels harking on high. Forget decorating the tree, freezing your ass off caroling and feeling haunted by good-will and cheer shoved down your throat at every opportunity.

Instead, prepare for that wretched isolation that you usually don't have to start dreading until the beginning of February.

I hope you happy couples take some time to celebrate in Japanese style. Also, I hope the words "Christmas cake" will make you giggle when people say them, as they often cause me to.