Saturday 4 January 2014

New Years Day in Japan

I missed a big family Christmas this year.  Traditionally every second year, as many family members as possible get together at one of our homes and celebrate Christmas.  These days we are scattered across Australia (and the world too with myself here in Japan and another brother in Canada) so these occasions are ones that are full of laughing, joking and catching up.  Unfortunately I couldn't be there this year and missed my family dearly.

In Japan, Christmas is a time for couples to be together and New Years (Oshogatsu) is the family time.  New Years was traditionally observed according to the Chinese lunar calendar but in 1873, during the Meiji period, Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar and thus the first of January became the official New Years day.  Along with spending time with family, New Years day is also a time to visit a temple or shrine to pray for a good upcoming year.  In fact, it is not just New Years day when people visit, but it can be any one of the first three days of the year.  With Tokyo being a city of over thirty five million people, temples and shrines have a habit of being quite crowded at this time.  Meiji Jingu in Harajuku welcomes over three million people over the first three days of the new year, with over half of them coming on the first day!

With that in mind, I decided to delay my visit to my local shrine until the second, figuring it would be a lot quieter (my New Year's eve activities also had some bearing on my decision as I had welcomed the New Year in typically Western fashion......I did take one picture on the night.  Matty, Warren and Mark, you may recognise this!).  

The afternoon of the second arrived and I started out toward one of my local shrines, Omiya Hachimangu shrine, which I have written about in a previous post, here.  As I got closer, I noticed many people on the streets heading in the same direction I was.

I arrived at one of the main gates and the density of people started increasing.

Wanting to avoid the crowds as much as possible, I decided to head around to the other gate and enter that way.  The traffic looked a little quieter here.

I arrived at the gates and discovered that a LOT of other people had the same idea that I did!

This, however, proved to be a blessing in disguise.  Whenever there are major festivals in Japan, temples and shrines really put on a big show with lots of food stalls line up to cater to the hungry and thirsty masses, and I had entered the gate where they were all located!  Pulling out my camera I started taking photos of what was a culinary tour of Japan!  I apologise, but I don't know the names of all of the different dishes, but I will try!

First up was takoyaki, balls of batter with ingredients such as octopus, spring onion and ginger.

 Next up was one of my favourites, okonomiyaki, Japanese savoury pancakes with ingredients such as noodles, cabbage, bean sprouts, pork and covered with a nice sweet barbecue sauce!  Delicious!

Following that was some kind of sweet shaped pancake batter deserts.  Don't know for sure the name for this one, but the writing says "baby custara" so maybe involving custard.

After this one was a gap before the next stall so I took a moment to gather my breath before continuing on.

Next to this one was a ramen stall,

and then some kind of deep fried cheese sticks.

Moving along I came to a stall selling lollipops in various shapes,

roasted chestnuts,

and this one, from memory was Osaka yaki, I guess a version of okonomiyaki.

Next was a seating area for those who wanted to take their time eating and drinking.

The next stall (or yatai in Japanese) was selling grilled fish,

Oden, several different ingredients such as boiled eggs, Japanese radish and fish cakes served in a light soy and dashi broth.

This next one was some kind of vegetable nabe, or hotpot.

After the nabe was a yakitori stall.  Yakitori is grilled meat on a stick.  It is usually chicken, but can also be pork and vegetables.

Next was yakisoba, or stir fried noodles with (usually) meat and vegetables.

Further along was some kind of pancake batter sandwiches with various fillings including cheese and red sweet beans (not together!).

This guy obviously wanted me to buy some of his food!

Moving past the scary guy I came to more delicious okonomiyaki!



a couple of different kinds of Japanese sweets

and another traditional Japanese delicacy, dried squid.

Finally was the ever popular nikkuman, or steamed meat bun.

Wow, I had successfully made it past all of those food stalls, to the shrine entrance, but if I thought I had finished navigating the crowds, I was mistaken!

I patiently made my way forward and when my turn came, said my prayer and made my wish for the upcoming year (I will let you know if it comes true!).

Moving away quickly to allow others to have their turn, I headed toward the New Years charms and fortunes stalls.

I bought myself a good luck charm in the shape of an arrow that will hopefully bring me all the luck I deserve for the following year.

I have also since found out that this particular shrine is famous for praying at for easy and quick childbirth and to guard against bad luck in child-raising!  Well, I lack the one ingredient needed for this to be useful.....a willing lady, so I guess that part of it won't be helping me!

So what did I eat from passing all of those food stalls?  Nothing as I had grander plans in mind for dinner.  I have previously spoken about a ramen blog that I read called Ramen Adventures that gives me some great ideas for places to go for good ramen.  One that I had been wanting to visit for a while was called Kururi, located in an area called Ichigaya.  Kururi make miso ramen which comes from the northern island of Hokkaido, which is not surprising as Hokkaido is bitterly cold in winter and miso ramen is a warming satisfying meal!  So I jumped on the train and travelled the 30 minutes to get to Ichigaya and tracked down Kururi.

Kururi is only a tiny little place that seats just seven diners.  I was lucky to get there when I did as just after, there was a line of people waiting, I was able to walk straight in!

I ordered my ramen and waited patiently until it arrived, and arrive it did in all it's delicious glory!!

I won't go into detail about the ramen as I am not an expert, but I will say that it was the best bowl of miso ramen I have had!  I walked out feeling completely satisfied.

And that drew my day to a close as I headed back home.

I hope you enjoyed my New Years edition of the blog.  Thanks for reading and see you again.


  1. Arigato Jason for your last 2 blogs.Interesting and informative as usual.I have nothing particular to say, except those yatai really make life in Japan a wonderful experience and often a chance to chat to the locals.We have had cool conditions this last week here in the city,light rains and windy at times;not great weather for holiday makers staying by the beaches.Nihon wa utsukushi kuni desu ne!( a man I met in Nihon said he was from the UK...the first letters of "beautiful country" in Nihongo.A little joke,that I eventually caught on to!

    1. Hi Noel,
      Happy New Year to you. You are right about the yatai, and the variety is impressive too!
      I have noticed that Adelaide is expecting a few days over 40 soon! Hopefully not for too long. I certainly more comfortable in the cold weather that we have here than what you are having there.
      Take care and stay cool.

  2. Hi Jason!
    Happy New Year in your blog:)
    I enjoyed New Years edition! It's really interesting and easy to read!
    You always check every little thing!! Wonderful !
    I hope your wish comes true☆
    And then,I'm looking forward to hear it :)
    See you soon!


    1. Hi Mariko,
      I hope you had a good New Year's Day with your family. Thanks for reading again!
      If my wish does come true, I will tell you!
      See you soon.