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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December Challenge 11 – Breakfast

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Ok, let’s be honest. This is what I wish I were having for Breakfast today. A matcha (green tea powder) & adzuki (sweet red bean) pancake with soft-serve ice cream at St-Marc Cafe in Ikebukuro. What I’m really having is less glamorous, because it’s a weekday, and I have to go to work. So while I stuff my face with whatever I can find in my scramble to get out of the house, let’s just enjoy the beauty of this dessert-for breakfast.

Are you hungry yet? I am! I actually did eat this for breakfast in Japan, about 3 years ago when I was on a month-long trip visiting my then-fiance (now husband). Hopefully I will get to try it again on my next trip to Japan!

There really is just so much good food in Japan, and I want to try everything, that some dishes don’t make it into my regular rotation. I haven’t found a bakery or coffee shop that does quite this kind of pancake, but there are several good Chinese or Taiwanese bakeries that have similar creations.

What did you have for breakfast today? Was it closer to this gourmet creation of my fantasies, or a grab-n-go like my actual breakfast? Let me know in the comments!

December Challenge 09 – Snack

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For the Snack theme for the December Challenge, I turn to a favorite of mine that isn’t necessarily suited to cold weather, but that I love to eat in the winter anyways. Anmitsu – a Japanese dessert that includes cubes of clear agar jelly, sweet adzuki bean paste, mochi bits, and fruits (like mikan or peach), which is topped by black syrup and sometimes soft-serve ice cream.

AnmitsuThis dessert can be eaten any time of the year, but since it is especially cold in the winter I enjoy ice cream more. However, if you accompany the anmitsu with a nice hot green tea, the slightly bitter green tea offsets the sweet and the cold quite nicely. So my choice for a winter snack is anmitsu!

What is your favorite winter snack? What is the most unusual winter snack you’ve tried? Let me know in the comments!

December Challenge – 07 Best Part of the Season

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In response to the theme of Best Part of the Day for the December Challenge, I chose my favorite part of the Season instead. I wanted to celebrate my favorite part of the holidays: illumination. Illumination is the Japanese word for holiday lights. All over Japan you can find special Christmas light displays, projection mapping, and elaborate crafts relating to the season.

In America you can find similar displays, including miles of road that are decorated with lights that you can drive along and view from your car or entire neighborhoods decked with lights. Even the zoos join in with light displays and extended hours.

In Japan, you can view illumination almost anywhere, but I think my favorite place to stroll and check out the Christmas and illumination displays are in Ginza. The first photo below is at Tokyo Station, but the rest are in the high-class shopping area of Ginza. Each store does its own illumination and window display. Many people are out on December nights to stroll down the streets with you.

What is your favorite place to view holiday lights? Tell me about your favorite part of the season in the comments!

Tokyo Station

Ginza - Louis Vuitton

Ginza - Mikimoto

Ginza - Bulgari

Ginza - 4 C Bridal

December Challenge – 06 Favorite Meal

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For today’s December Challenge, the theme is Favorite Meal. While I have a lot of favorite foods during the holidays (turkey, ham, etc.), in recent years I have begun to enjoy a different kind of holiday food.

When I first visited my husband’s family in Japan (he was my fiance then), his parents treated us to yakiniku, or Japanese BBQ. The meat is cooked on a grill in the middle of a table, and you can order by the plate. There are also onions, parsley, and butter that come along with the meat to season the grill.

The photo I selected to represent my favorite meal shows beautifully marbled meat that was served at my in-laws’ favorite restaurant, Tokyo Hanten. It’s also now my favorite yakiniku restaurant, and every time we visit they take us to eat there because they know how much we love the food.

Favorite Meal

When I think of holiday food, after turkey and pie and Christmas cakes, I also think of yakinikuWhat kind of holiday foods do you eat during December? Let me know in the comments, so if I get a chance I can try it, too!

December Challenge – 03 Morning

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Today’s theme for the December 31-day challenge is Morning and so I am sharing my favorite winter morning view – Mt. Fuji! I lived at the base of Mt. Fuji during my study abroad in Japan, and went back again over Christmas three years ago. I woke up early to get some shots of the stratovolcano at sunrise, and I wasn’t disappointed. In the quiet morning hours at the shores of Lake Kawaguchiko, the photos of the peaceful (but really cold!) scene still bring back good memories.

MorningWhat is your winter morning like? Tell me about it in the comments! 

Bilingual Problems – Friday Afternoons & Monday Mornings

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It’s Friday (yay!) and for me, that means the start to a weekend of speaking 99% Japanese. My first language is English, I was born in the US, and I live in the US, but I have studied Japanese since high school so I can have everyday conversations without too much trouble.

My husband is Japanese, and he can speak conversational English, but when we met he spoke literally zero English and so our conversations from day one were in Japanese. Since we spoke Japanese from the time we met, it’s difficult to change our habits at this point in time. (I’ve since noticed that whenever I meet someone, whichever language we start speaking first is the one we usually speak in at least 75% of the time from that point on).

English on the Weekdays, Japanese on the Weekend

So that means that I spend the week speaking English at my job and speaking Japanese at night, but when I come home on Friday I start a weekend of pretty much only speaking and listening to Japanese. We mostly only watch Japanese TV and movies (mostly because I like to watch Japanese news and TV shows). The friends I’ve made in my new city are also mostly Japanese speakers, so when I go out on the weekends I speak more Japanese. The only times I really speak English for any length of time on the weekends are when I talk to my parents on the phone or Skype.

Then Comes Monday Morning…

So what does that mean on Monday morning? You might have guessed that my English is pretty lousy by the time Monday morning comes around. I have an early morning meeting every Monday, and while my sleep-deprived brain is already fumbling to make coherent sentences, Japanese words come to my mind rather than English words. My English sounds like an English language learner, or my grammar switches order as I try to directly translate the Japanese that comes to mind. It can be frustrating, but also maybe more than a little entertaining to my co-workers.

Conversely, when I go on business trips and come back home (usually Fridays), my Japanese is lousy when I go back to talking to my husband. I’m tired from travelling on airplanes, getting up super early, time changes, and sleeping in hotels. I go from discussing technical data in English to blanking out on answering simple questions in Japanese. It usually takes me a while to get back to where I can have coherent conversations in Japanese again.

Does Every Bilingual Person Experience This?

I imagine this is something a lot of bilingual people experience. A few other American friends of mine who have studied Japanese and used it on a regular basis, then had to switch back to English after long periods of time, have told me that they also noticed that their English (native language!) got worse. Of course, either language improves with use, but that initial transition can be tricky.

When I had to interpret for my parents and my in-laws earlier this year when they finally met, I was mentally thoroughly drained thanks to having to constantly switch back and forth between the two. I really admire interpreters, as it takes a lot of mental fortitude to keep up that kind of transition!

Are you bilingual? Have you ever experienced this kind of thing? Have you ever tried interpreting between two languages? Any advice that could make this transition between languages easier? Let me know in the comments!