Monday, January 10, 2011

Akemashite Omedetou! Happy New Year!

New Year's is easily the biggest holiday in Japan. Perhaps you could call it "the Godzilla" of holidays with Obon, the other biggie in August, being "the Mothra" of holidays, and Christmas being like "the Gamura" of holidays - yeah, it's there, and they certainly decorate for it, but no one is closing any shops or schools for a giant flying space-turtle that fights on the side of good (1).

But for New Year's, everything comes to a massive grinding halt for about 3 days.

There are a number of events associated with New Year's. There is the giant NHK "紅白" competition (That reads "Kouhaku" and means red and white - as in the red team and white team, a common way of designating two sides) This is a massive collection of pop stars and the latest one-hit wonders divided into two teams, each singing for a panel of judges. This year included the latest frighteningly popular boy band "Arashi"(2),

made up of 5 'men' (actual gender has not been confirmed at the time of publication) who are in tons of commercials, TV variety shows, and apparently, for no reason I can fathom, an airplane

(Considering the name "Arashi" means "Storm" this may not be the best-conceived sponsorship in JAL's illustrious history)

One of the other groups was the equally manufactured group AKB48

What does 48 mean? its the number of members! (seriously)

just watch (3) -

and for anyone who thinks this looks like it is going to be classy - I invite you to skip ahead to the 1:10 mark.

Another big hit at the competition this year was ”トイレの神様” or "God of the Toilet".

And if that all doesn't sound super enticing, there is always osechi to look forward to. A common practice is for all the extended families to gather at the house of the oldest son, whose wife has to throw together a massive spread of what is called osechi - New Year's food (couple that with the face that the oldest son also has a duty to live with and care for his parents, and you can start to see why many women steer well clear of an oldest son).

Most of these foods have some specific meaning -

Konbu (昆布) - a type of seaweed, is close to the word Yorokobu meaning happiness.
Small fish called Tadzukuri (田作り), used as fertilizer in rice paddies, symbolize a bountiful harvest.
Kazunoko (数の子) - Herring Roe, but the meaning of kazu is counting or many - and ko is children - a hope for many children in the upcoming years

Of course, there is always sushi as well, because as much as everyone loses their collective minds for New Year's food (called "osechi"), it is selected for symbolism over what might actually taste nice(4).

And if you can't find the time or wherewithal to put the food together (because it is complicated and requires a specific layout in boxes) you can always buy it at a department store $300 - $400 for a family of 4, or go all out and spend over $1200 from a top end hotel. Even 7-11 in Japan gets in on it charging a more reasonable $150 for a family set.

(1) Last monster reference, I promise.
(2) Actually, they got together were assembled 10 years ago, but only recently started producing original and engaging music started paying off DJs.
(3) This may be hazardous to your health - also, a sign that you may be getting old is when your students (age 14ish) can honestly not believe that you don't know about AKB48 as if this talent-packed collection of Rhodes Scholars were the next coming of the Beatles.
(4) The smell of the Tadzukuri fish being cooked in the oven actually made me leave the house for a walk despite sub-zero temperatures - that's right, I chose frostbite over the smell of that fish.

1 comment:

  1. This is all beyond words. Oh, the humanity, O the insanity! Caught between AKB48 and the Tadzukuri! I don't think I cooked anything that drove you out of the house, and only provided you with the best of rock&roll. I trust you are feeling grateful :-)

    Actually, I like the monster references, but then I liked Mystery Theater