Bob had duty on New Year's Day, so since he had to get up early and didn't want to do anything New Year's Eve he offered to stay home with the girls. I had been wanting to go out and celebrate the new year, but didn't want to drink myself into oblivion or go to any bars or clubs. After reading about how the Japanese celebrated the new year I decided that's what I wanted to do; New Year's Eve Japanese style! I decided to go to Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine in Kamakura, only a couple of train stops away from our house. I had been here before for Shichigosan back in November so I knew where I was going at least!
As of 6 pm on Wednesday night my plan was to go alone, people watch, snap some pictures and take it all in. A couple of hours later I talked to my friend Star and she was up for meeting me there. So around 10 pm I met Star, her husband and a few of their friends at the Kamakura Train Station. Even the train station was decorated for the new year. See the rope hanging above the wickets? You can read more about New Year's decorations in one of my old posts.
The train was nearly empty, walking from Shin Zushi to Zushi Station was like a ghost town, and it wasn't until I got to Kamakura Station that the crowd was obvious. New Year's Eve in Japan is a family holiday. People go back to their home towns and businesses close up for nearly a week around the new year. Everything associated with the New Year is symbolic of "firsts" of the new year. So, the New Year gives a sense of renewal.
Anyway, getting back to it. We walked from the train station to the shrine via the Dankazura walkway. It was lined with lanterns and that's when it hit me, "Wow, it's New Year's Eve and I live in Japan. Wow, I live in Japan!" The first time I saw it was the beginning of April. The trees that line either side of it are cherry blossoms and it was beautiful to walk through. Okay, side tracked again....so we walked through there to the shrine and walked around for about an hour eating, trying sake and some new [to me] foods.
Around 11:30 pm I got in line and really started to notice the crowd; I've never seen that many people at a shrine before! Star and her group headed towards home but I wanted to stick around. At the top of the stairs is the area where you throw a coin and say a prayer for the new year. I guess from January 1-3 millions of people visit this shrine in order to do that. Thousands of us were in line waiting for the rope to lift up to let us through. There were bright lights along pathway and there were police/security scattered on either side of the wide line shouting things into a megaphone. I couldn't understand a word of it, but a couple of them were holding signs that said "Moment Please." There were two "checkpoints" where a giant rope stretched across the crowd. Police officers on either side held each end of the rope, and every time a whistle blew the rope lifted and we moved forward. Crowd control, and very well controlled crowd control.
I met a small group of girls in line that spoke very little English but grabbed my arm and I assumed that meant to stick with them (picture to the left). We got separated eventually but once I got up to the top of the stairs and said my prayer, I decided to pay the ¥100 and shake the box to get a stick and my fortune. I was waiting in line for the fortune and I heard, "Hello, are you from America? I lived in Kentucky and am an English Literature major." I turned around and there was a girl, maybe 20, and her three friends. They were so sweet and kind and kept me under their wing. They were all practicing their English on me too. We stayed together maybe 20-30 minutes and we all got our fortunes together (the white slips of paper you see below)...they even translated mine for me. Well, they all looked and laughed together, then the one with the big fur collar, the one that lived in Kentucky for a semester, did her best to tell me in English what I had in store for me in 2009.
The train going back was busy but not over crowded. A heck of a lot more people got off than got on with me. I got a seat but there was standing room only. And since it was a holiday the trains run later than usual. So much fun, so glad I went and will never forget it! And speaking of year of the cow...I came across these guys on my way back to the train station around 2 am.
I took some video and compiled it together into two. You can see them below, but if you get this in your email you can also see them here for part one and here for part two.