sechan19: (butterfly)
[personal profile] sechan19
In Japan, the coming of the new year (Shōgatsu) is far and away the most important holiday of record. (Other major holidays include Setsubun [the bean throwing festival], Tanabata [the star festival], and Obon.) In contrast to the anything-goes party aesthetic that often attends the "western" new year, Shōgatsu is a family holiday. Many people return to their hometown in order to spend the first week of the year with their parents and, rather than partying 'til dawn on the last night/first day, visit their local shrine at midnight and local temple in the next week to pray for a prosperous twelvemonth. Of course, that doesn't mean that the party 'til dawn approach to new year's isn't savored by the denizens of the city, and the beauty of living in Tokyo is that you often get the best of both worlds.

I was fortunate this year to have the opportunity to do just that. It all started with an invite from my good friend, R. (an old buddy from the original KCP days). R. had gotten tickets to a party happening near the Tokyo Station area, and did I want to join him and some friends for the evening? Generally speaking, I'm pretty well over the club scene—preferring to get red wine drunk with my girlfriends and watch telly as my primary form of partying these days. However, the periodic special-occasion outing can be a pile of fun—particularly when the people you'll be with are worth being with. R. and I have been partying together in Tokyo on and off for the better part of six years now, and we always have the best fucking time. So, yeah, I was incredibly down.

We had a blast. R. had brought a whole crew of people I'd never seen before, but he, his girlfriend S., his friend A. (another KCP alum, although from a different year from me), and I pretty much ditched them early on and spent the evening partying together. We arrived a bit before the club opened and so went to a convenience store to do a little pre-gaming before heading in. Once inside, though, it was on. R. taught us some of his professional dance moves, A. taught us the basics of doing the moonwalk, I taught everyone how to do a simple hulu step. From there, we got settled in with our first drinks of the evening, and then hit the dance floor for the remainder. It was pretty crazy: lots of tipsy Tokyoites, generalized bumping-and-grinding, and at least one S&M outfit wandering about to everyone's delight. When the ball dropped at midnight there was a flurry of movement as everyone kissed everyone else, and then the dance floor was once again a shimmering mass of pulsation and joy.

Around 1:30-2, the smoke was getting pretty damn thick, and—being a group of non-smokers—we all decided to head for various elsewheres. The typical three-sheets-to-the-wind hijinks ensued while we waited for our respective trains. (The trains in Tokyo run all night on New Year's Eve to accommodate the large numbers of people who visit shrines at midnight.) And then it was back to Obayashi Biru, where I found a nice warm bed waiting for me (courtesy of the hot water bottle I'd prepared prior to departure).

New Year's Day saw me waking up surprisingly early all things considered, but I was refreshingly hangover-free (god bless those alcoholic genes) so I got up and puttered about the house a bit, putting things to rights. I had a quick shower, because smoky clubs always stick with you, and did laundry for the same reason. Then I had a big breakfast and looked over some revisions that I need to make to the chapter I'm working on. (Yes, even on the holiday I'm doing a bit of work.) Around 3, I headed over to Eunja's house for a family celebration.

Eunja's husband, Kim, is currently back in South Korea visiting family, but Eunja, Son'eu, and Hamni (Son'eu's word for "Grandmother") remained in Tokyo, and they were kind enough to include me in their little family gathering, which was delightfully low-key. We had traditional Korean Barbecue for dinner. (Delicious pork served piping hot from the grill on cool, crisp lettuce leaves with red chili paste, grilled garlic cloves, kimchi, and rice.) In keeping with tradition, Hamni cooked all the pork in the universe while I valiantly attempted to live up to her expectations of American appetite. But I can honestly say I didn't mind, and 45 minutes later I was still finding room in my betsu bara (extra stomach) for grilled sweet peppers, fresh jumbo shrimp cooked in the shell and husked by hand, spicy daikon radishes, and icy barley tea. Yum!

After dinner we watched Korean television, mainly variety shows that have certain similarities with Japanese variety shows and yet remain uniquely Korean. There were a lot of specials on the new year, including a step-by-step documentary on how to make Dgeok Gook, a Korean mochi (rice-cake) soup that is traditionally served at the new year. Noticing my interest, Hamni promised to make the soup for me for breakfast the following morning.

Throughout the evening, we played with Son'eu, who had napped through our dinner and woke up with a surfeit of energy. We ran around, and jumped up and down, and played with legos and toy cars. At one point, I realized that he was copying my movements, so I started doing the Gangnam-Style dance on the off-chance, and he copied that, too! This led to rousing rendition of the Gangnam-Style chorus, with Eunja, Hamni, and I all chiming in while Son'eu and I lassoed and galloped. Afterwards, though, my personal energy level began to flatline, so I sat down on the floor with my back to the couch and let Son'eu use me as his personal jungle gym. I think his discovery that I could flip him forwards and backwards over my folded knees may have changed his toddler life...

Having gone to bed fairly early to catch up on lost sleep, I was up early the next day for breakfast. True to her word, Hamni made Dgeok Gook, which was one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten. The stock is made from beef and anchovy, which is then strained and poured over steamed mochi slices and garnished with shredded, slow-cooked beef, green onions, and fried egg strips (although they omitted the egg for me, as I don't like it). I lingered over the soup, taking twice as long to eat it as anyone else at the breakfast table because I wanted to prolong the experience. (Seriously, Dgeok Gook is so good, I can't even tell you.) With breakfast over, it was time for us to go our separate ways. Eunja and Hamni packed me a to-go bag with lots of Korean vegetables and an assortment of holiday cakes, and I was off home to get some more work in.

On Sunday, Eunja, Son'eu, and I will meet up in Asakusa to visit the Sensōji temple and pay our respects, so I suppose the celebration isn't quite over yet. There's definitely something to be said about a week-long celebration.

All in all, this was one of the best New Year's I've ever spent, and I've spent some damn good ones over the course of my life. Here's hoping that yours was just as lovely and the coming year of the horse lovely to match...
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