Well, it finally happened. This year, I ended up staying in Japan instead of going home. I expected that I’d feel homesick, that maybe I’d even feel like a terrible person for missing out on family time.
I have a confession to make: I felt NONE OF THAT NONSENSE. God, the amount of stress relief was amazing. No getting up at the crack of dawn to travel down to Narita. No crying babies for hours on a fourteen hour flight. No running to catch my stupid connection through a busy airport only to wait two hours for the next one. No traveling all over the country after I get to the U.S.A. because my family lives in separate states. No one bitching at me to come home instead of “living so far away.” Repeat process in reverse to get back to Japan and add in some really awful TSA groping at some point in Chicago O’Hare (aka the pit stain of airports). I love my family and friends, but being able to take a break from the Christmas madness was awesome.
Since I didn’t go home, I was able to go to the end of the year parties (bonenkai) with some friends associated with YES Eikaiwa, an English school that’s just down my street. We ate at a Chinese restaurant, where we sang Christmas songs and did a Santa Swap.
YES Eikaiwa Party!
I ended up winning some bath salts, which are amazing. I don’t know where they’re from, but they make my skin nice and pretty.
And of course, I got to do Christmas lessons. The students this year did songs and activities. The first years (7th grade for you Americans) got to make 3D Christmas cards. Some of them were really pretty!
My base school also had a bonenkai, which involved a buffet of Japanese food, BINGO Santa Swap, and some other games.
The BINGO game was fun. You could choose from a huge pile of presents when you won. I ended up choosing some fancy chocolates. I found that funny considering I gave chocolates as my gift. One of the teachers had this strange random number gadget that he would press for the next number. It kept doing old numbers over and over again, so all the teachers gave him a hard time.
After the first round was over, we all went to the second round of the party (nijikai). We went to a karaoke place to sing and drink, which is par for the course of a nijikai. The party didn’t go onto a third round (sanjikai) because many teachers were also coaches that had games the next day.
Usually, people who are deeply liked, respected, and/or higher in rank are invited to the next party. If you’re just a part timer or the youngest of the bunch, it’s not uncommon to not be invited to the second or third rounds. For ALTs, it depends on the school if you get invited to the bonenkai or not. Some do, some don’t. Both of mine do, because they know I will sing Lady Gaga like no one’s business.
For Christmas Day, I went over to my friend Cameron’s house in Toride. She served some delicious chicken, salad, and some wonderful stuffing.
I forgot to take a picture of the food, so here’s Cameron’s pretty tree instead.
We had red velvet cupcakes for dessert.
In between this time, I visited other friends in Japan, getting in touch with them again and having a blast. I remembered my family fondly, recalling all the times I’d gone to my grandmother’s house packed full of my father’s side of the family. All my aunts and uncles catching with up everyone about what’s going on and what everyone’s planning to do. The people in my age range talked among ourselves for the most part, my brother and I swapping stories and inside jokes. However, I didn’t really feel like I was missing out. I knew I’d be there again someday in the future, and I sent them my love from Japan.
New Years Eve I went to Tokyo. My friend Candice and I went to a couple of clubs and danced the night away. I got to see the sunrise on January 1st, 2014 in Roppongi.
A few days later, I went with some friends to the Kashima Shrine (Kashimajingu). I did go there on New Years Day about two years ago and it was a madhouse! This year I ended up going later, but guess what? It was still a madhouse!
GAH! I can’t move!
We purified our hands before going inside and getting our fortunes for the new year (the year of the horse, by the way).
This is where people line up to wash their hands and gargle (NOT DRINK) the water.
Turns out that for at least a week local shrines are packed full of people buying things for the New Year, such as good luck charms and fortunes. People will also burn certain items as offerings to the god(s) of the shrine and might get themselves purified within the shrine in the spring. The spring, by the way, is freezing cold, but it’s supposed to give you long life and good health so people go in for a dip. You can take a drink from a running spring in the back of the shrine, too, which is also for good health and longevity.
I did neither of those things because I would rather not be colder than I already am. Besides, my fortune was the top ranking, you can do anything you want this year congratulations kind of fortune.
Whoo-hoo! I won the luck lottery! Now if I could just win the real one…
These fortunes are fun little things that supposedly tell you what you’re supposed to do this year to get what you want out of life. If you get a bad one, most people tie them to trees or a standing wire board provided by the shrine so you can expel the bad luck.
I took mine and put it in my wallet. Putting good fortunes in your wallet is believed to bring you more money. It’s only good for one year, so once the year is over, you have to take it out, or so I’ve been told.
All in all, I was very pleased with my first Christmas away from home. It was a nice change of pace, and really did make me feel more at ease than trying so hard to get back. I think I will go home next year for sure, though, because Christmas really means a lot to my family.
Happy 2014 everyone! Let’s make it EPIC!