New Years’ is the most celebrated of all Japanese holidays, and most companies take the entire week off of work. New Years’ Eve itself is quite the celebration, with many people staying up until dawn to see the first sunrise of the new year. And, since Japan is pretty close to the date line, it is one of the first places to see the sun rise over the new year. Hence, “Land of the Rising Sun,” eh? Anyways, I had duty on the 31st, so all I got to do was watch fireworks from the flight deck right after I got off of watch. I’ve heard some pretty wild stories from those who ventured out to Tokyo that night, none of which I care to relate here. Bitter? No, of course not…
Fortunately I was off work for both the 1st and the 2nd, so I took advantage of the extra long weekend by getting a hotel room in Shinjuku for a couple nights. It was pretty pricey, but I invited a couple friends along for the first night to help spread the cost. We met up with Bun at Tokyo station, and attempted to venture into the park around the Imperial Palace but to our dismay found that the entire area was roped off in preparation for an event the next day. Plus, my friend was already shithoused and difficult to keep track of so we went back to the room… lame, huh? But no, the night didn’t end there. We went to Roppongi of course, and along the way picked up a pack of five Indian dudes who were also heading there. On the way we walked past a Lamborghini dealership, which gave me a raging hard boner for the rest of the night. When we finally reached our destination, I was aghast to find it completely and utterly barren. Apparently, nobody was brave enough to venture out to the clubs after partying the night before. The few stragglers we did run into were almost all foreigners, and we added an Irishman and a couple Marines to our posse. It was a lot of fun, although the night ended somewhat poorly with my friend puking all over the outside of a cab and then trying to sleep four drunk people in one bed.
The next day I joined my friend Naomi in the afternoon for 初詣 hatsumoude, an annual ritual for the Japanese. It is the first shrine visit (although some visit a temple, like we did) of the new year in which wishes are made for good luck and prosperity for the coming year. We went to Asakusa Temple on the northeast side of Tokyo, and the crowds were amazing. It took about 45 mins to make it all the way down the avenue in front of the temple, and when were were finally allowed to enter and throw our coins, all hell broke loose. It was easily more crowded than a rush hour Yamanote train, and everyone was pushing to get to the front. I eventually gave up and chucked my coin into the pile from about ten feet back. I was so distracted that I didn’t even remember to make a wish!
After the ordeal in the temple we decided to grab some yakitori and get our fortunes. The fortune-telling apparatus is a little strange-looking, but here’s the gist of it: You shake a sealed metal cylinder full of numbered sticks until one of them slides out of the small hole in the end. The number on the stick determines which little drawer you open. Each drawer is full of slips of paper with fortunes on them, and you must take the top one from the drawer. I drew drawer number one, which seemed auspicious, and upon reading my fortune was delighted to learn that I had gotten the “luckiest” of them. Naomi agreed that it was doubly lucky. Her fortune was not so beaming… but at least she did not get the worst. Those unlucky individuals could be seen tying their foreboding slips of paper to wire trellises to ward away the bad luck.
A pleasant afternoon turned into a pleasant evening, and I went to bed that night in a big soft bed, the first one I have slept in since arriving on the ship. I don’t have trouble sleeping in my rack, but it felt wonderful to be able to stretch out and roll over without hitting the wall. And, to top it all off, I randomly woke up early in the morning, and peered out my window to discover that it was only minutes before sunrise. Being on the 18th floor, I had quite a view, and took in the awesome expanse of Tokyo at dawn.