Festive Season III: New Year’s Eve

February 1, 2007

Good, essays largely out of the way, so I can tell you about my New Year’s celebrations.

After a dinner with some friends (international cuisine – Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, China) I went to a Buddhist temple at Daimon with my friend Chin and her sister Yi Shuan, who was visiting from her home in the US, for the countdown to the new year.

Daimon temple

Above you see the entrance to the temple grounds.  You arrive there after a walk of about 50 metres along a road with white paper lanterns hung on the lampposts.  This is quite common for Buddhist temples, it seems – there is quite a long approach from the first gate, throught the second gate, to this, the third gate.

There were plenty of people around, but it wasn’t too squishy inside the temple grounds.  We stood at a place where we could see both the front of the temple, and the video board showing the countdown, and the large bell which would be rung after midnight. 

Before the countdown, the sound system played two youngish Japanese people having a discussion, possibly about what the celebration meant, I don’t know, I couldn’t understand.  Then, at about a quarter to midnight, Japanese musicians began playing traditional music on traditional instruments.  It was dissonant, high-pitched string music (maybe it wasn’t traditional, maybe it was Schoenberg??) and was quite haunting.

But the crowd wasn’t in much of a spiritual mood.  Lots of the Japanese were carrying clear balloons.  Occasionally, someone would get careless and let theirs go – at which everyone would say ‘aaaaaaah’ as it floated away into lower space.   

At one minute to midnight, the countdown began on the video board.  It wasn’t just your usual countdown sequence, with the numbers ticking down.  Here, the lights on the board made crazy patterns, only stopping every ten seconds to flash ’50’, ’40’, ’30’ etc.  The colour and movement worked the crowd into a little frenzy, which gave out excited gasps every time a number flashed.  Then came the final ten seconds, all ticked out by the board.  At ‘zero’, the board flashed, lights went on, balloons spiralled upward, boyfriends and girlfriends kissed, cameras flashed – a really good, happy atmosphere. 

A cold author

In the background there is Tokyo Tower, the Japanese’s answer to the Eiffel Tower and constructed to show the world how proud they were that they had ‘arrived’ as a developed nation.

The ‘western’ half of the night over, now began the more Japanese festivities.  Buddhist priests were standing around an enormous bronze bell at the right-hand side of the temple grounds.  Every few minutes, a family group would ascend the pagoda from which it hung, be blessed by the chief priest, and ram an enormous tree trunk into the side of the bell.  ‘DONG’.  Because of the size of the bell, it continued to vibrate at a low frequency for around thirty seconds after being struck – I could feel the vibrations running along the ground under me.

Meanwhile, hordes of Japanese and foreigners like I and my friends made our way up the path and steps to the temple.  After about twenty minutes to half an hour of slowly walking and frequently stopping, our part of the crowd came to the front of the temple:

Front of the temple

Behind us were the unfortunates who hadn’t been as quick as us:

The crowd of unfortunates

You can see the video board there, way in the background, displaying ‘2007’.  I had been standing near there during the countdown. 

After another ten minutes of waiting, we were able to make our way into the temple.  I didn’t take any picutures in here, but it was quite lovely – beuatifully polished wood and gold finishings, chandelieres, gold statues of the Buddha, etc.  At the front of the inside of the temple, in front of the main alter and about ten metres inside the doors, there was an enormous strip of white plastic sheeting, formed into a square.  Hundreds of Japanese were standing around it, around seven deep, waiting to make their way to the front of the crowd.  Once there, they would throw a five yen coin into the sheeting (which served to collect all of the coins), say a prayer, and then make their way out of a side door. 

I didn’t happen to have any five-yen coins, so I threw in a 500 yen coin, made some wishes for this coming year, and then had another look around the temple.  I was quite beautiful, I will go back there at some stage and take some photos for you. 

After that, the three of us made our way back home, past the crowds.  I’ll leave you with some photos that I took on the way back.

Part of the temple 

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Banners II

Statue of Riberty

Rainbow Bridge

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