New Year in Japan

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The  New Year in Japan is probably the most important holiday of the year. Schools and businesses close for the year-end holiday 年末年始 nen matsu nen sho and many people return to their hometowns to visit family.

New Year's kadomatsu 門松

In Japan, the New Year holiday is the time for family, while Christmas in Japan is a time for couples. This is the opposite in the US, as Christmas is the time when people gather with their extended families and usually is the most important holiday. New Years for Americans is instead a time for partying as a couple or with groups of friends.

The result of the New Year’s holiday being such an important, family-oriented holiday is that shops and tourist attractions close early, often for several days before and after the New Year. If you are an employee this is great, but if you’re a tourist, you might be frustrated. With restaurants, souvenir shops, and museums closing, you might not be able to cross some things off your bucket list. Banks and ATMs also close, so be prepared with plenty of cash before the New Year’s holidays begin. You also might find more crowds when traveling to and from big cities during this time.

Even if normal shops and activities shut down for a few days, there are still plenty of things to do during this time of year!

Sensouji (shrine) at Asakusa

New Year’s Shrine Visit – Hatsumode 初詣

On New Year’s morning, often just after midnight, millions of Japanese people flock to shrines (jinja 神社) or temples (otera お寺) to perform their first visit or hatsumoude 初詣. If you are in Japan over the New Year, this is an event that I would recommend trying at least once. Unless you hate long lines and crowds. If you are willing to suffer a little bit queuing up in the cold winter air for a truly Japanese experience, then I would make sure to try a New Year’s shrine visit.

The festivities begin on January 1st as the year turns, where the temple bells are rung 108 times (to chase away bad fortune). At the larger shrines and temples there are food stands. You can also buy lucky charms, or get your fortune (omikuji おみくじ) in kanji characters.

Shrine wishes at Fuji Sengen Shrine in Yamanashi

You can expect to line up for over an hour at the most popular shrines and temples, and at the end of the waiting you reach the main offering hall where you can offer a prayer for the New Year. Major train lines run overnight as the year turns to accommodate the huge crowds of people, but be prepared to be packed into the trains like sushi!

If the biggest crowds and longest lines scare you off, you can perform your hatsumode after January 1st, for at least a week at the major shrines.

Waiting for hatsumode at Meiji Jingu

Waiting for hatsumode 初詣 at Meiji Jingu – photo by kei

 

New Year’s Sumo Entry Ceremony

In 2015, I went to the Meiji Jingu Shrine 明治神宮 with my then-fiance for our hatsumode. I was surprised to find out that we were there on the same day as the Yokozuna Deizuri 横綱手数入り, or the sumo ring-entering ritual. I’m not particularly a sumo fan, but it’s pretty impressive to see these athletes in person!

Emperor’s New Year Greeting

On January 2nd, the Emperor of Japan makes a public appearance at the Tokyo Imperial Palace or Koukyo 皇居. The only other public appearance the Emperor makes is on his birthday, December 23rd. On the 2nd, the inner palace grounds are open to the public and the Emperor and his family appear on a protected balcony to wave and give short speeches.

 

 

Tokyo Imperial Palace, Koukyo 皇居

Tokyo Imperial Palace, Koukyo 皇居 – photo by kei

 

New Year’s Sales

Once the New Year’s family gatherings are over, the stores open back up and greet the new year with huge sales! Stores want to move their stock to make room for new product, and therefore they offer great discounts on many items. This is probably one of my favorite parts of the New Year!

In addition to deep discounts on electronics and clothing, you can buy fukubukuro 福袋 or lucky bags. These range from small, inexpensive bags to large boxes with household goods, depending on the store. People will line up for the best fukubukuro, so get there early if you’re interested in the high-end hauls!

New Year's Sales Haul

New Year’s Traffic Congestion

Since many people get the same New Year’s holidays off, travel becomes very congested during the end of the year. From December 29-31, the mass migration begins and many people leave Tokyo and other big cities to return to their hometowns.

Once the New Year celebrations are over, on January 2-4, these same people return to the big cities, creating travel congestion on the roads, on trains, and at airports. If you plan to travel between Japanese cities or out of the country during these times, be prepared for lots of crowds!

Is New Year’s a big holiday in your country? What would you recommend if I visited your hometown for the New Year? Let me know in the comments!

 

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New Year, New Travel Goals

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My final New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to take a trip. I have been to Japan for the past 2 years and I would like to continue this tradition if possible. If not, I would like to at least travel to a place that is not my hometown or that isn’t required for work. I enjoy traveling to new places and exploring new cities, so I would like to take at least one trip to a new place.

When I was a grad student I spent a month with my then-fiance in Japan and was able to visit a lot of amazing places. However, when you are trying to adult and travel at the same time it can be difficult, because although you have a job and earn money, you can’t take endless amounts of time off, and sometimes you have to spend the money on adult expenses ( ´•̥̥̥ω•̥̥̥` )

In 2016, I was lucky enough to travel to my hometown four times and travel for work, plus I even got to visit Japan again! I can’t complain, and I love to visit my hometown, but seeing new places is always exciting.

My best advice for traveling? Plan ahead! Estimate the costs, save a set amount of money each paycheck, and remember that you might have to make sacrifices (like those new shoes that are super cute) in order to make the trip a reality. But it’s worth it in the end, isn’t it?

I’d also like to improve my photography skills during my travels! I always have the most fun photographing new and exciting places, rather than where I live. Although moving to a new town at the end of 2016 was almost like taking a trip, since everything is still very new to me!

Where did you travel in 2016? Where would you like to travel in 2017? Let me know in the comments!

New Year, New Japanese Goals

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I’ve always wanted to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), although it does nothing for me professionally, just to prove that I can. At the beginning of 2016, I thought I would take it by the end of the year, but I didn’t stick to any kind of schedule and in the end I never took it.

This year? I’m not confident that I will be able to take it this year either. But I would like to study as though I were planning to take it at the end of 2017. If for nothing else other than as personal growth in my Japanese ability. So, I have made Japanese study one of my New Year’s resolutions!

What went wrong last year? Last year I did not set any kind of schedule or routine for study, and therefore there was no motivation for me to study. I am good at setting long-term goals, but if there’s no plan it’s hard for me to keep on track. So this year I am going to make a plan from the beginning!

Japanese Study Texts

I am starting off with the Matome まとめ series for JLPT N3 (the middle level), and Kanji Step 6 to strengthen my basic ability. Then I plan to continue to N2 and N1, and to continue with the kanji series. I prefer a structured lesson set so I like the day-by-day worksheets in the まとめ series, but that’s a personal preference.

I’ve also started using an app called HelloTalk. This is a social language learning app, where you can find people who speak the language you want to learn, and who want to learn the language you speak. Then you can exchange messages in either language, and correct each other’s messages. I won’t be able to do all the worksheets every day, and so if I’m busy I can still practice reading and writing in Japanese with this app.

I also practice speaking daily with my husband (although usually only slang ^^), and listening daily with the Japanese news on the NHK cable TV channel that is offered through my cable provider.

So, will I end up taking the JLPT this year? I think I need to consider it a bit more carefully before I decide, but at least I hope to improve my Japanese ability!

Are you going to start learning Japanese this year? Or improve your Japanese ability? How do you plan to study? Let me know in the comments!

New Year, New Relationship Goals

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In 2017, my New Year’s resolutions include new relationship goals.

Wait, what? I thought you were already in a relationship? ∑(。・Д・。)???

Yes, I am! I’m happily married to my Japanese husband. Don’t worry, I’m not talking about a new romantic relationship, but rather new friendships.

In 2015, I moved to a new town after graduating from grad school and starting a new job. At the end of last year, I moved again for work to another new town. So the year after starting over in a new town and finding new friends, I’m starting over again!

It seems daunting to again try to find friends in a place where I know literally no one. But I’m making it a resolution to try to find new friends (again). The only question is how to do it when I don’t already have friends to introduce me to new friends (and coworkers probably won’t be able to help with this).

So I’ve brainstormed some ways to get out, be social, and hopefully find some people with similar interests:

  • Professional groups – This way I will meet people who work in my field and, even if I don’t make new friends, I will at least have a professional network
  • Young professional groups – This will introduce me to young professionals, like myself, even if they aren’t in the exact same field as me
  • Meet Up – This is an app I recently heard about, where people join groups and “meet up” to do activities about once a month, thus you can find a whole group of people with similar interests as you
  • Go somewhere new – At least once a month my husband and I will go to a new place (museum, park, etc) to get more familiar with the area and to broaden our horizons – at the very least we can see what this place has to offer!

These are the ideas I have come up with so far, and if I do at least one of these events at least once a month, I hope to meet some new people!

Do you have any other ideas about how to meet people in a new town? Please let me know!

New Year, New Blogging Goals

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Yesterday, I posted about my Blogging Goals. It’s easy once you stop posting regularly to stop posting altogether, and I like to blog so I’d like to post more often.

TL;DR: I want to post more.

Last year I tried different things to post more often (like participating in the A to Z Challenge), but at some point I stopped posting regularly. And then it became easier to post less frequently, and then not at all. Add in work, travel, and moving to a new city, and I was busy enough to put blogging at the very end of my list!

Tokyo Tower New Year's Decorations 2015

This year, I want to change that! My New Year’s resolution is to post 2-3 times a week. That way I can figure out what I want this blog to be, write about stuff I like, and maybe entertain someone along the way. However, I said the same thing last year, and I didn’t keep up with it to the end of the year. So, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t fall into the same rut again and stop posting by the end of this year.

How to avoid doing the same thing as last year? Make a calendar. After sifting through lots of pages about blogging, I found that making a blogging calendar kept coming up. This method seems like something that I can do to remind myself to blog, without taking a whole lot of extra time to do. The basic idea is to set up a road map that you follow for your blog, so that you can follow it even when you are very busy.

My personal calendar plan consists of setting aside days to blog that fit with my work schedule (because I definitely don’t want to write a blog when I get home after a long day). I will pick the topics ahead of time, then just write short posts about each topic. Then I can schedule the posts for later in the week and not have to worry about remembering to post them. Do you think I can keep up with this schedule? I hope so! Let’s see how this works!

Does anyone else have this same problem with blogging? Do you have any methods to help you blog more frequently? Please share in the comments!

New Year, New Me

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How many times have people made New Year’s resolutions only to break them soon after? The gym is full on January 1st, but empty by February. The salad-every-meal diet dissolves into the pizza-and-chocolate-cake diet. Let’s face it, resolutions can be hard to keep.

I’m just as guilty as most people of breaking New Year’s resolutions, but I try to prevent this by setting attainable goals. That doesn’t mean I always keep them, but I think it gives me a better chance!

I think that my 2017 resolutions will look a lot like my 2016 goals because I’m good at making long-term goals, but terrible at keeping on track unless there is a firm deadline. I think to have a chance of attaining my goals and keeping my resolutions this year, I will need to set some firm deadlines (like I did with my 2015 resolutions.

Kiyomizudera - Kyoto, Japan

Blogging Goals

I think that you, dear reader, will be most concerned with this goal. If you like my blog (thank you!) you might hope to hear more from me than you did last year (sorry!). Last year I resolved to post 2-3 times a week (which I didn’t, oops), but I think that this is a solid goal to try for again this year. If I can actually keep up with this goal, I think I can better shape my blog’s themes so that it isn’t as all-over-the-place as it typically has been.

Relationship Goals

In 2015, I moved to a new city and so my goal was to make new friends. At the end of 2016 I moved to another new city, and so now I find myself with the same goal to make new friends. Balancing work and personal life is important to me, but even though I have a lot of experience in moving to new places and starting over, I am going to have to get creative to meet some new people with similar interests! I am going to try to go to a social event at least once a month so I can meet new people.

Japanese Goals

In 2016, I thought I would study hard and take and pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), but between work and the lack of a study schedule, I did not achieve this goal. If I were to take the JLPT this year, it would fall at the end of the year, which gives me nearly an entire year to prepare. I am not ready to commit to the actual JLPT at this point, but I plan to make a weekly study schedule and to prepare as if I were going to take the JLPT. If nothing else, my Japanese skill should improve.

I’ve also started using an app called HelloTalk, which pairs language partners based on the languages they know and want to learn. It seems convenient because you can use it at any time and chat like a social app, but still keep your privacy. Let’s see how it goes!

Travel Goals

I love to travel, especially to Japan. I would like to take at least one trip this year (that is not to my hometown). This depends on work and financial status, but if I start planning now it will be easier to make a trip! And while I’m at it, I would like to take more photos and maybe improve my photography ability along the way.

Jenny Lake - Grand Teton National Park

What are your 2017 resolutions or goals? What are your strategies for keeping your resolutions? Let me know in the comments!