My New Year

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明けましておめでとうございます!今年もよろしくお願いします!

Happy New Year! Wishing you health and happiness in the New Year!

My husband is Japanese, I’m American, and we live in America. So we have an interesting mix of traditions for the winter holidays. We usually spend an American-style Christmas with my family, then spend New Year’s with just the two of us.

We try to incorporate a lot of Japanese traditions into New Year’s, although we can’t do some things, like hatsumode 初詣 or the first shrine visit of the New Year, we can do other things like eat (especially eat) traditional foods, and watch the Japanese New Year’s special Kohaku Song Competition 紅白歌合戦 (thanks to TV Japan).

I wanted to introduce some of the things that my husband and I do for our state-side New Year’s celebrations~

New Year’s Cleaning

Before the New Year comes we have to do a big cleaning called o-souji 大掃除, to clean out the old and dust and get ready for the New Year and good luck. We clean the house thoroughly (mostly) and the cars and yard (dead leaves, etc.). When I visited my husband (before we were married) in Japan for New Years a few years ago, we cleaned his apartment and part of his family’s house in the same way.

Apartments in Japan

Now that I’ve been doing this for a few years, I enjoy the sense of emptying out things I don’t need, cleaning out all the dust, and organizing my life before the year turns. Also, I have an excuse to sit around and be lazy on New Year’s Day!

New Year’s Food

My husband and I both enjoy eating, and although we have yet to make osechi ryori お節料理, or the traditional foods that are eaten for luck and health in the new year, we do enjoy making other New Year’s foods.

osechi ryori お節料理On December 31st, we eat toshi-koshi soba 年越しそば or year-crossing soba (buckwheat noodles). The history of toshikoshi soba dates back to the Kamakura period of Japan, where a Buddhist temple gave soba to poor people on New Year’s. During the Edo period, the tradition became a part of mainstream culture. Eating the soba allows you to cut ties with the old year, as the noodles are easily cut with your teeth while eating, and thus gives you a clean start to the new year.

On January 1st we usually make a sweet red bean soup with mochi (glutinous rice) called oshiruko おしるこ. Red and white are lucky colors for the new year, and the red beans and white mochi make oshiruko a lucky dish.

New Year’s TV Special

One thing that I am glad we have access to is Japanese TV, through a service called TV Japan. We get a variety of dramas, news, and special programs here in the states, so we can keep up with a lot of the Japanese programs. Some of the premium dramas don’t come out right away, but most of the NHK dramas come out at the same time as in Japan, so I don’t get behind my friends in Japan.

There are many New Year’s specials, but the first one I saw in Japan (years ago) was the Kohaku Uta Gassen 紅白歌合戦 or the Red & White Song Battle (official title: Red and White Year-end Song Festival). This is aired on December 31st leading up to midnight, and consists of popular Japanese artists competing on the Red team (girls) and White team (guys). It’s a continuous performance, with the popular songs of the year interspersed with commentary by famous actors, announcers, and comedians. Then at the end, everyone votes for the best team (Red or White).

Red & white ema at a shrine

They broadcast it on TV Japan live in Japan time, and then rebroadcast it on American time – so I can watch the whole thing in the morning on December 31st or as a countdown to midnight here in America. I enjoy it because it is a review of the popular songs of the year, and since I can’t go to a New Year’s live (or concert) in Japan, I can have my own in-house concert with all my favorite bands, talented enka singers, and other famous people.

Happy New Year!

The traditional greeting in the New Year is: Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!

You can shorten it to: Akemashite omedetou! (for friends)

Or for really close friends: Ake ome! (The first two syllables of the first two words in the greeting, but this is much less polite than the longer version).

You can also add: Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu!

This means, “please take care of me this year too,” and is also a standard and polite greeting.

So, Happy New Year, and please take care of me this year too! ^.^ Ake ome everyone!

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Y is for Yellowstone

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Today is the second to the last day of the A to Z Challenge! So for today, Y is for Yellowstone. Yellowstone National Park is located in the state of Wyoming in the US. It was established in 1872 and is the first US National Park. It’s famous for wildlife and geothermal features, as it sits on a hot spot with lots of volcanic activity. It’s also a supervolcano that has erupted at least 3 times in the past 2.1 million years!

Old Faithful at Yellowstone

Old Faithful Geyser at Yellowstone National Park – photo by kei

The volcanic activity underground creates many hydrothermal features, such as the world famous Old Faithful Geyser. There are also fumaroles with dry steam, bubbling mud pots, and bright blue hot springs. There are several geyser basins throughout the park, and since the entire park is on a volcano you are never far from a geothermal feature. This means that you should be careful when walking through geothermal areas, stay on marked paths, and never try to touch the hot springs. Continue reading

W is for Wyoming

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For today’s A to Z ChallengeW is for Wyoming. Wyoming is a semi-arid state which is usually dry, and primarily receives precipitation in the form of snow, which can close down roads in the winter. Wyoming is the least populous US state, with plenty of wide open spaces perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.

Bighorn Basin Wyoming

Near the town of Lovell in the Bighorn Basin, WY – photo by kei

The state consists of many geologic basins (low spots), which formed in between mountain ranges (high spots) due to tectonic plate movement during the Cretaceous through Eocene periods. This is called the Laramide orogeny, or mountain-building episode, and this is what formed the Rocky Mountains in the US and Canada. This also means breathtaking views from mountains across the expanse of the basins. Continue reading

U is for Utah

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U is for Utah in today’s entry of the A to Z Challenge. Specifically, Salt Lake City, Utah. This is the capital and most populous city in Utah. Its name comes from its proximity to the Great Salt Lake, a huge inland salt lake that contributes much to the dry continental climate, that produces hot, dry summers and cold, snowy winters. This makes Salt Lake and the surrounding resorts a popular summer resort and winter skiing destination.

Salt Lake City Utah State Capitol

State Capitol building at Salt Lake City, Utah – photo by kei

The city of Salt Lake City was founded by Brigham Young and other Mormon followers in 1847. They extensively irrigated and cultivated the arid landscape, and today the city hosts the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints headquarters and Temple Square.

Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City Utah

Mormon Temple of Salt Lake City, Utah – photo by kei

The city is a hub for air travel, conventions, music and the performing arts, and of course is a great ski destination. The city is located in a valley, and as a result offers breathtaking Rocky Mountain views of towering mountains beyond the city buildings.

Salt Lake City Utah at Night

Night view of Salt Lake City, Utah (without tripod) – photo by kei

Have you ever visited Salt Lake City? What is your favorite attraction? How about a favorite ski resort (anywhere)? Let me know in the comments!

S is for Sakura

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S is for Sakura for this installment of the A to Z ChallengeSakura 桜 is the Japanese word for cherry blossom, the light pink flower that blooms for only a few weeks a year in the spring before falling to the ground in a flurry of blossoms. Cherry blossoms have fallen for the most part in mainland Japan, although Hokkaido is still due to be in full bloom next week. So I thought I would post about these beautiful flowers.

Sakura at Shiroyama

Sakura (cherry blossoms) in Yamanashi Prefecture – photo by kei

Japan has a whole flower-viewing culture 花見 based around cherry blossoms. When spring hits, sakura themed food, drink, and cute characters bloom like the flowers they represent. School ends during cherry blossom season, and many graduation songs reference cherry blossoms. School rejection letters have even been known to contain a metaphor that goes something like “the cherry blossoms are falling.” Continue reading

O is for Oklahoma

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For today’s A to Z ChallengeO is for Oklahoma. Oklahoma is a southern state in the US that is considered a midwest state. Confusing, right? It’s location is southern, but the people consider themselves part of the midwest culturally. It’s located north of Texas, and is home to a large proportion of Native American tribes (although not all by original choice).

Oklahoma City State Capitol

State Capitol at Oklahoma City – photo by kei

Oklahoma has a very expansive (read flat) landscape, except in the southern part of the state, and is mainly dominated by agriculture and oil and gas industry. The capital is Oklahoma City, which is a smaller big city. Continue reading

L is for Las Vegas

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For today’s entry in the A to Z Challenge, L is for Las Vegas. Las Vegas is located in Nevada in the US, and is famous as a gambling capital. Other things Las Vegas is famous for is marriages performed by Elvis, conventions, and general debauchery.

Las Vegas

The Las Vegas Strip – photo by kei

My first experience with Las Vegas was at age 18, much younger than the legal gambling and drinking age of 21, which really limits the places you can go. In the hotel casinos you can’t go near the gaming machines – which are often between the hotel rooms and the hotel entrance. You can’t enter clubs, and your activities can be limited, especially if you are with a group of 21+ people.

Las Vegas

The Chandelier Lounge at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas – photo by kei

Las Vegas

Paris & Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas – photo by kei

My later trips to Las Vegas were after I turned 21, which opened up a lot of options. I don’t gamble (except the occasional game of pachinko, where I know I’ll at least win back my money) but the shows in Las Vegas are pretty awesome. From pricey shows like Cirque du Soleil (visually stunning acrobatics), to mid-range shows like the Tournament of Kings (a medieval jousting show) at Excalibur, to free shows like the Bellagio Fountain show – you can find something that appeals to you.

Las Vegas

Chandeliers at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas – photo by kei

Las Vegas

Paris Tower in Las Vegas – photo by kei

I’ve been to Las Vegas for a conference, a wedding, and even at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a popular time for Japanese (and other) foreign exchange students to visit Las Vegas. You can eat a Thanksgiving dinner (buffet style or Chinese), go shopping, and enjoy the usual Vegas attractions. I will warn you that it gets really crowded, and you probably want to get reservations well in advance.

Las Vegas

Bellagio water fountain show in Las Vegas – photo by kei

Las Vegas isn’t for everyone, but even if you only go for a weekend I think it’s an interesting experience. My advice is to plan ahead with a few attractions that appeal to you, and then enjoy yourself!

Have you been to Las Vegas? What was your favorite attraction? If you could get tickets to any show or event, which would you pick? Let me know in the comments!