Here are pictures from my traditional Japanese New Year celebrations in Nara at the Noda house (Keiko-mama and Hiroyuki-papa are parents to Keita from my former host family). Ryota (Keita’s brother) and Megu (his wife) were also there.

In the evening we went to an Izakaya where a crowd of Ryota’s old friends gathered. I met many of the people I got to know at Megu’s and Ryota’s wedding last summer, and had a great time.

Sumo-wrestler food and Ryota

Happy reunion

We sat next to this guy and his son for most of the evening. They were so much fun. The guy was doing magic tricks and I was getting “moya moya” because I couldn’t figure out how the magic worked.

Then we went home and I got to lie in the hot bath for a good while, after which they made me wear some kind of traditional coat-blanket thing and we sat under the kotatsu (warming table with attached blanket, don’t ask…) and we watched the annual Johnny’s new year’s countdown concert LIVE on TV!

In the morning we ate New Year’s food. The customs/symbolism/traditions of the New Year in Japan are so complex that we’ve had several lectures on the topic in school.

Special chopsticks called yanagibashi

Decorative food~

Then everybody went into the room with the family altar. I was utterly mystified (especially since I had just woken up) when Hiroyuki-papa started chanting a long and incomprehensible text by heart. Later the others told me that they didn’t understand the chanted words either.

Picture of (a small part of) the text, which I got to see later

Megu by the altar

All of us (almost awake)

Offerings to the ancestors

We also drank red wine for breakfast.

I got to talk to Keita and Misato on the phone and later we met them on Skype. I can’t wait to see them in the summer! Even little Yuika seemed to remember me – oh my heart… At least the shouted “Moomin!” when she saw me.

Then it was time for Hatsumode, the first shrine visit of the year. We went to the same shrine where M&R got married last year.

By the torii (shrine gate)

Here Megu is explaining the contents of my omikuji paper, since I can’t read Japanese very well. The omikuji is a fortune-telling paper that you receive by shaking a wooden tube so that a thin rod with a number comes out – then you get a paper fortune corresponding to that number. Mine was really good and in short  said something like things have been very hard but will gradually get much better.

Here I’m happily tying the paper in a knot and leaving it by the shrine.

And some bonus pictures:

For boys who want to cut their hair exactly like Johnny’s idols

I know that bowing is common in Japan but…

And last weekend (?!) I was in Osaka at Tsubasa’s concert with Junko and Ciara. The ticket situation was unprecedented and we almost didn’t get in, but in the end we got two tickets for Ciara and me, and Junko went the next day. We got in there one minute before it started. The show itself was incredible and intense, and one person near the stage passed out after the first couple of performances and was taken away by ambulance – and that was before the flamenco even started!! And the screaming was so loud that we were deaf for a while afterwards. I’ve heard it usually gets like this in Osaka… Anyway, after the show we found out, little by little, that there was a special surprise arranged: Tsubasa would personally hand out a wristband to every person who pre-ordered the new DVD. We somehow managed to fill in some papers and got tickets, and in the queue we started to seriously freak out. This kind of chance is really rare, after all – I’ve only been hoping for it to happen for… seven years? We managed to not pass out from hyperventilation before we got behind the magic screens and the otherworldly presence of Tsubasa himself, and managed to say what we had planned (during a couple of seconds, before a staff person pushed us away). I thanked him for everything (something I’ve wanted to do for years) and told him to please come to Europe (in Japanese), and Junko, who went before us, said that Tsubasa looked extra happy when he saw us, two foreigners. Afterwards for a long time we couldn’t stop screaming and jumping around like maniacs and hugging, no matter that we had never met before. I was outside wearing a t-shirt and couldn’t bring myself to put my jacket on because I couldn’t feel the cold at all. That was that in short.

Tokyo post coming up when I have time even though I don’t have time…