David Chart's Japan Diary

January 14th 2008

So, as I've been promising in my blog, here's an account of what we got up to over the New Year. Unlike Christmas, this is a major holiday in Japan, and it's when we took our break. "Break" may not, actually, be quite the right word, as we were really rather busy. Fortunately, it was all fun, family stuff, so it counts as a holiday.

Mayuki's Present Mayuki getting her present from New Zealand.

The first event was that Mum and Ray arrived in Japan, on their way back from New Zealand. They said they had a great time, and we heard about some of the events, but there turned out to be much less time for sitting around and going over the holiday than we'd anticipated, so there's still a lot to hear about. We did get presents from the trip, including a very nice picture book for Mayuki. New Zealand does sound great, however, and Yuriko and I both think that we'd like to go there at some point. In the undefined future...

Anyway, back to the past. When we looked at timing before they arrived, we realised that I couldn't take all the time that they were here off and still have time to go to Nagoya to see Yuriko's parents. Since we could hardly deprive Yuriko's parents of their granddaughter, that meant that I had to work for a couple of days at the beginning of Mum and Ray's visit. Since they were planning on taking it very easy for a couple of days, the biggest problem was that Yuriko had to go to meet them at the airport. That, again, is not a major problem. The issue was that it meant that I had to look after Mayuki while I was teaching. Fortunately, that went well; Mayuki was a good girl, and didn't cry at all, although I did have to hold her for part of the lesson. It suggests that, while I shouldn't plan to teach with Mayuki around all the time, I can do it occasionally if it becomes necessary. This is good; those little bits of extra flexibility make, we have been discovering, a really big difference.

New Year Decorations Our New Year decorations.

As I recall, our Christmas decorations were still up when Mum and Ray arrived, giving them a chance to see them, but we quickly took them down, replacing them with our New Year decorations. This year is the Year of the Rat, which sounds better in Japanese, and so there are two "lucky rats" as the centrepiece of the display. We have the "lucky boar" from last year, so in another ten years we'll have a full set of the animals and can start reusing them.

As soon as I finished work, Mum and Ray looked after Mayuki for a day, while Yuriko and I went into Shibuya together. We had sushi for lunch, soba for dinner, and watched a movie in between. Originally we were going to see The Golden Compass, but on investigation it turned out that that doesn't open in Japan until March. So, instead, we went to see a Japanese film set in the Showa 30s (1955-1964). It's the sequel to a major hit, and has been a major hit itself. (Always: 続三丁目の夕日, for those of you interested in finding out more.) It was good. It's a simple "daily life" drama, and it may be that I like those sorts of films more than I thought, because I've rather enjoyed the ones Yuriko has dragged me along to. It wouldn't export very well, though; it's a slice of Japanese life. Good material for Film Studies courses, however.

The next day was New Year's Eve. Mum and Ray slept a lot in the afternoon, and came fairly late. This was planned, because we aimed to do Hatsumode at midnight, and they wanted to be sure they'd still be awake. First, we ate toshikoshi soba together (I explained this in last year's entry), and then got ready to head for the shrine. We'd allowed plenty of time for Ray to walk slowly, but in the event he fairly belted along, probably because it was a bit chilly (not really cold, though, and I blame global warming), and we arrived at the shrine at about twenty to midnight. We dropped off our o-fuda and o-mamori from last year, and then Mum and I stood by the bonfire to keep warm. I was carrying Mayuki in the baby carrier, so I had to keep warm; the plan was for Yuriko to keep out place in the queue, and Ray kept her company.

As a result, we were there at midnight, when the shrine staff beat the drum inside and opened the doors so that people could perform their first shrine visit. Naturally, we went to Shirahata Hachiman Daijin, the local shrine, and the one where we did the Hatsumiyamairi, which meant that not only did the shrine family know Yuriko and me, they also knew Mum and Ray. They seemed happy to see us, and gave us a couple of small presents. These were soaps in the shape of rats, with a display stand and stickers; they are good luck charms for the New Year, of a sort. (You can actually see ours in the picture of the decoration, above; it's the smaller mouse display, on the left.) This was a nice personal touch for Mayuki's first Hatsumode (and, come to that, Mum and Ray's first, as well). On the way back from the shrine we were lucky enough to be able to hail a taxi, so Mum and Ray made it back to the hotel at a moderately sensible time.

New Year Dinner Mum and Ray about to tuck into the osechi ryori and ozoni.

On the first we ate osechi-ryori and ozoni, the traditional New Year foods. Last year Yuriko made them all herself, but this year we decided to buy the osechi-ryori in, because it's a bit fiddly, and Yuriko just made the ozoni. Osechi-ryori is, as I described last year, a bit unusual, but fortunately Mum and Ray liked most of it, as I do, so we had a very pleasant dinner. That was about all we did on the first, so New Year itself was quite relaxed, but we had a very nice time.

On the second, we went shopping in Kawasaki. The first stop was an electronics store for Yuriko's birthday and Christmas present from Mum and Ray, a digital photo frame. Then we had tonkatsu (fried pork cutlet) for lunch, which was a big hit with everyone. Ray chose the restaurant; I was showing him pictures and explaining, but as soon as I'd explained this one, he decided it was the one to go for. Finally, we went to a baby shop, and Yuriko changed and fed Mayuki while Mum and I looked at toys, and planned presents for this year.

That was the last day, as they flew back on the 3rd. I took them to the airport and saw them off, and then took the rest of the day fairly easy, because it was an early start, and we were off to Nagoya the following day.

Mayuki Mayuki in a childseat for the first time.

Going to your hometown for New Year is traditional in Japan, but as we were doing it just after New Year it was fairly easy to book seats on the Shinkansen. It was Mayuki's first Shinkansen trip, and she took to it well. It's about an hour and twenty minutes to Nagoya, and she spent most of the time looking around and out of the window, or feeding. On the outward trip she did start complaining towards the end, and I took her out to the end of the carriage, where she enjoyed looking out of the window in the door. Yuriko's father and brother met us at the station, and drove us to see some more of Yuriko's relatives, an uncle and cousins. This was Mayuki's first experience in a car child seat, and she really enjoyed that; I don't think she ever complained in the car. Mind you, we were never in the car for that long.

We went to see the same set of relatives last year as well, and it was nice to see them again. We ate sushi again, and then played bingo again. I won again. In fact, I got three bingo lines before some people had got one. I'm not sure how you can be good at bingo, but I seem to be. Anyway, we had fun, and Mayuki was good much of the time, although she did cry a bit. The first day in Nagoya was a bit difficult; I don't think she was entirely happy with the new environment at first.

On the Saturday, after an easy morning, we went to a doll shop to look at special traditional dolls for Mayuki. In the end we ordered a set (they will come tomorrow), but they will get their own diary entry in a couple of months.

Atsuta Jingu Yuriko and me, in front of Atsuta Jingu. Mayuki is in the baby carrier on my chest.

Sunday was a family day out. First, we went to Atsuta Jingu, the Shinto shrine where the sword of the Three Sacred Treasures is enshrined. Naturally, you can't see the sword, but there were a lot of people doing their Hatsumode, even several days into the New Year. After the shrine, we went to eat Hitsumabushi, which is a Nagoya specialty. Basically, it is sliced grilled eel on rice, but it's very, very good. The restaurant we went to, Horaiden, is hundreds of years old and specialises in Hitsumabushi. We had to wait two hours for a table, which is a measure of how popular it is. After that wait, the food was excellent, and the room was Japanese style with a nice garden outside the window. We had to sit on the floor, but I'm quite good at that now.

This was another day of carrying Mayuki around in the baby carrier, but it's great. I can carry her for hours without really getting tired. Indeed, on the journeys I had my luggage on my back and Mayuki on my front without feeling much of a strain. I imagine this will get harder as she gets bigger, but at least the carrier helps a great deal.

After we got back I was straight into a very busy week, with lots of teaching, which is why this didn't get written earlier. This weekend, I've been finishing moving boxes of books from the cupboard in my office to the storage container, and also tidied up my bookshelves a bit. This needs to be done now, because we will need the space that's been cleared in the office once the dolls arrive tomorrow. Still, we made time to go to the local bonfire. These are another traditional feature of the time of year; you take the burnable bits of your New Year decorations, and they are burned in a large fire at a traditional place. Ours is held in front of a stone representing the twin gods of roads and boundaries, at a point that, in the past, was the boundary between two villages.

So, a good start to the year. This year there was no ambulance trip, for which I'm really grateful. Spending New Year itself at home was very nice, and I think I'd like to make that standard practice, so that Mayuki can have standard New Year memories.