Introduction

Japanese New Year

Japanese New Year

My break ended in a much better way than it began. As I mentioned in a previous post, I originally planned to visit Kyoto, Kobe, and Hiroshima. However, stomach flu kept me in bed for the first few days of the break, and prevented me from visiting the first two cities. I fortunately recovered in time to go to Hiroshima. (I’ll share my advice on receiving medical attention while abroad in a future post!)

This image shows a signboard featuring the text, "Hiroshima." It is at Hiroshima station.
Hiroshima Station

Before I get into my winter break, I should explain a little bit of my history. This isn’t my first time living in Japan. I lived in Hiroshima for a year in high school as a Rotary exchange student. That’s why the city holds a special place in my heart. There, three homestay families fostered my interest in Japan.

This image shows a forested mountain featuring houses on its side.
The area I lived in during my senior year of high school.

I began the break by taking the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Hiroshima. Honshu’s scenery flashed by me at 300 kilometres per hour. Four hours later, I stepped out of the train at Hiroshima station, and let three years’ worth of nostalgia wash over me.

This image shows a bowl of ramen featuring pork, an egg, and vegetables.
A long-awaited bowl of ramen at my former homestay family’s restaurant.
This image shows a view of a port at dusk.
A nostalgic visit to the port beside my high school.

The passing of the New Year in Japan tends to be calmer than in Canada. It is not associated with partying. Rather, it is a time in which businesses and government offices close for a few days, so that families can spend time together. It is customary for families to spend New Year’s Eve together eating osechi and toshi-koshi­ soba.

This image shows toshi-koshi soba. A slice of fish cake, tofu skin, and soba noodles are in a dark broth.
toshi-koshi soba

Some people stay up all night to catch the first sunrise of the year (hatsuhi no de). Other families wish each other a Happy New Year (akemashite omedetou gozaimasu) at midnight, and then go to sleep. On New Year’s Day, many people visit a local Shinto shrine in an act called hatsumoude. There, visitors make wishes for the New Year and receive an omikuji – a small piece of paper featuring a telling of one’s fortune.

This image shows people queueing at a shrine.
Visitors lining up to make their wish at the shrine I visited.
This image shows a cube-shaped cup with sake inside. Flakes of gold can be seen inside the sake.
It is also customary to drink sake featuring gold flakes on New Year’s Day.

I spent New Year’s Eve and Day hanging out with one of my former homestay families.

I came back to Tokyo shortly after New Year’s Day to write a paper. The contrast between Hiroshima and Tokyo reminded me of the relativity of a city’s size. When I lived in Hiroshima, I considered it to be a large city. However, my perception of it has changed after spending the last three months in Tokyo. Hiroshima feels comfortable and calm relative to Tokyo’s endless bustle.

My semester ends in the beginning of February, until which time I’ll be writing essays. Next week, I’ll be writing about getting medical attention while abroad.

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