With winter comes 2 weeks of vacation time for me. This year, I spent half of my time home in the states with family, and half of my time here in Tokyo. Unfortunately, I managed to get sick a day or two before I went back to the states, which made me less than exciting during my time with family, but I’m glad I got to see everyone in person. Skype is great, but there’s no real substitute for hugs and kisses from family.
We celebrated Christmas at my Gram’s house in California with extended family. Great food, family, and fun!
I’m fairly certain I still belong at this table, but it’s logistically impossible for me to sit here (the ass-to-chair ratio complicates things).
Christmas was a frenzy of torn paper and loud sounds from children playing with noisy new toys. The day after Christmas, my parents, my brother and I headed for Las Vegas where we spent an evening wandering the strip and spending money. We started out with dinner at the stratosphere – the 106th floor restaurant was an amazing view!
Sadly, I didn’t walk away having won anything big, but I can say I walked out of the city only about $40 lighter than then I entered it, so I won’t complain. Not too shabby for an entire night of gambling. My brother, on the other hand, won several hundred dollars from one excellently-timed slot machine button press. Nice.
The next day, we headed to the airport, where I said my goodbyes to my family, who headed back to Oregon. I went back to Southern California to spend one more day with my Gram, then headed back to Tokyo in time to celebrate New Year’s.
A countdown party, a bowl of soba at a bar, several drinks, and a sunrise later, I crashed at about 7:00 AM and became nocturnal for a few days. I was so enthused to do the “FIRST SUNRISE OF THE NEW YEAR YAAAAAY!” thing, but I don’t think I’ll do it again. Sunsets are more for me, I think. I never have been and never will be a morning person.
Nonetheless, I did it, and I have photographic proof (though, I suppose this photo could have been taken on any other day, now that I think about it). This is the first sunrise of 2011, captured
crappily majestically with my cell phone. This is facing east, from a bridge in Ikebukuro. The tower in the distance is the new Edo Sky Tree. It took me all of three minutes standing there looking into the distance before I waved my white flag (read: grumbled), and surrendered to sleep.
While I didn’t take part in all of Japan’s new year traditions (decorations, wearing new underwear, cleaning my entire residence, sending out new year’s cards), I did go for the “fukubukuro”, or “lucky bag”. Essentially, it’s a store’s offering of either a) a random amalgam of a few surprise items, or b) a collection of several things put together in a package and offered at a special price.
Surprise seemed more fun (and also cheaper).
My prizes consisted mostly of socks, though I did find a fold-out box and some earring cleaning stuff in here too. While socks may not sound exciting, I’ve certainly appreciated them in the last couple weeks. Winter in Japan is cold. Damn cold. While winters in Oregon are cold, Japan’s winters are cold without effective means of escape. Many buildings are older, and are very poorly insulated (which means they are also murderously hot in the summer). Even some newer buildings are difficult to heat!
As a result, the heater runs non-stop, I wear socks, jackets and sweaters indoors, and snuggle under blankets whenever possible. People hurry from place to place in the streets. I do like winter, and even vastly prefer it to summer. With winter comes warm coats and hot drinks and the magic of the kotatsu, a table with a heating element underneath it. Entire families can sit around the table and watch TV, chat, write letters, play games – all while enjoying the heat of the table. Of course, getting up is a bit like jumping into a swimming pool after you’ve been sitting in a hot tub, but hey, it’s part of the fun.
Being back in the states was a weird experience – I felt a little slower than the other people around me. I had forgotten how to banter with shop staff and strangers. I felt grossed out by the concept of taking a bath without first showering. I sat in front of the TV for a few hours, amazed at new shows (seriously, MTV, what?). I could understand everything people said to me and grimaced at people being unnecessarily mean. It all went by in a blur. Coming back almost felt like a relief – in Tokyo, you can get by with head nods and subtle hand gestures. There is no chit chat between you and the person checking you out at the register. Admittedly, there are also no Reese’s pieces (I had to bring those from home)!
I enjoyed my winter vacation. Of course, as is usually the case with vacations, it felt much too short. 2011 is off to a good start here, and I hope you and yours had an excellent holiday season. I’m glad to be back in Tokyo, and look forward to writing more this year! Thanks for reading in 2010!