Friday, December 31, 2010

Tokyo See: Countdown at Zojoji Temple

What do you know? Another year has come to an end, and we are staring into the open jaws of 2011. (Yes, I am "drama" in that way.) I have never had a thing for celebrating new years, the parties and the squashing with a zillion other people to do the countdown, preferring to idle away in the comforts of my home, or even better, snore through the momentous crossing of one year to another. However, although I am very much a homebody, I can still do the occasional hard partying. Samurai T, on the other hand, is a veritable hermit compared to me. He ABHORS crowds, and gets immensely grouchy every time I dragged him to places with swarms of humans, e.g. Chinatown during Chinese New Year's Eve. So yes, we always have very boring plans for spending New Year's Eve. 

The countdown digital time board outside Zojoji Temple

An exception was when we were spending our last night in Tokyo on New Year's Eve in 2008. Since this was the first time we were celebrating the New Year overseas, I was very keen on participating a countdown event in Tokyo, and had already identified the annual party at Zojoji Temple (which is just next to Tokyo Tower) as the "To-Go" event that evening. But prior to that, we already had quite a fruitful and exhausting day at Kamakura (read post here), followed by a most fabulous dinner at an expensive restaurant on top of the Shinagawa Prince Hotel (I still salivate over the memory of the yummy beef steak). It was freezing cold outside, we were warm and happy in our splendid hotel room watching TV, and as usual Samurai T was NOT keen to get outdoors again. But I persevered. When will we ever be in Tokyo for New Year's Eve ever again? I argued. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Thankfully, I won the day. And at 11.20pm, we roused our weary bodies and bravely subjected ourselves to the biting cold and took the JR Yamanote line to Hamamatsucho Station, and from there we walked about 10 minutes to Zojoji Temple. We made it there with barely 10 minutes to spare before midnight and there were already TENS of thousands of people at the Zojoji Temple compound which was romantically lighted up by traditional lanterns and we could only stand near the entrance. It was madness. But one positive thing was that we could keep warm with all the jostling bodies around us.

Main entrance of Zojoji Temple. It was so crowded people were spilling out onto the streets.

We were right at the end. There was a sea of people in front of us. Trying to capture the releasing of balloons at midnight.

The lighted up Tokyo Tower nearby. I wish I had a better camera then. :P

(A quick note on Zojoji Temple: It is built in 1393 and is the main temple of the Buddhist Jodo sect in the Kanto area. There is a Tokugawa mausoleum on its grounds and the crests of the Tokugawa family still decorates the temple buildings. The western New Year also coincides with the Japanese New Year (the Japanese New Year used to follow the Chinese until the Meiji Restoration), making it doubly important for the Japanese people and the reason why many countdown events are held in key temples and shrines around the country.)

As a result of my impeccable timing, we did not have to wait in the crowd for long (and before Samurai T's face could turn blacker) before we counted down to 2009. But because there were so many people, even the counting down was not unanimous - the people at the front probably welcomed the new year before those at the back (us included) did. But the atmosphere was electric, probably not as crazy as it would be at Times Square in New York, but fun nevertheless. At the side, Tokyo Tower erupted in a burst of lights and there were loud cheers and singing from revellers.

"Happy now?" Samurai T asked me when we finally disentangled ourselves from the still celebrating crowd. Yeah, short as the whole affair was, I was happy. After taking a few quick pictures of the surrounding area and the Tokyo Tower, we rapidly made our way back to the train station to avoid the human crush later on. And less than 1 and a half hours after we left the hotel, we were back in its cosy embrace (thank God Shinagawa Prince was quite near Zojoji Temple).

Two years on, as we await 2011 tonight, we are likely to go back to the familiar routine of watching movie reruns on TV. Nevertheless, the most important thing is not HOW one spends New Year's Eve, but Who one spends it with. And I am never happier spending it with my stick-in-the-mud, boring-as-a-plank Samurai T, snuggling together on the sofa and munching unhealthy chips.

I hereby wish all readers a glorious 2011. And the wish for myself is that I hope this blog will hit 20,000 unique visitors this time next year.

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