All through New Year’s there’s a tremendous amount of emergency vehicles, police officers, officials, public workers and men and women in uniform standing by to keep Tokyo safe. Here’s a few of the random snaps I got in and around Asakusa and Ueno on New Year’s Night. Not the best quality shots but at least bloggable. By the way, isn’t the fire department Kumade (熊手) fantastic? I don’t think I have ever seen one like this! Stay safe in 2013 everyone!
One of the many ceremonies held around New Year in Japanese shinto shrines is the jouka (浄火), the holy fire. It is a ritual burning of holy items, such as the prayer slips, the votive plates, any old material related to the gods or statues, votive arrows, decorations that have been blessed etc. The ritual is called Otakiage (お焚きあげ). The basic rule is that since everything you buy at a shrine is blessed it needs to be ritually burned and never thrown away with common garbage. There is also a time limit to most of the things you buy, it should be burned within a year or so, before the holy charm is used up and ceases to be effective. This is one of the reasons you see so many Japanese shop at shrines but you never see the stuff piling up in homes and very little of it ever reaches the antique markets. At New Year’s Eve, many people bring their old charms and decorations to the shrine and leave it with the attendants who man the holy fires. I took these photos of an attendant at the Shitaya Shrine in Tokyo’s Ueno district. A young handsome man and a big roaring fire, very photogenic!
So if you ever need to throw something from a shrine away and you are too far from the shrine to go there yourself, you might consider just mailing them the thing and asking them to burn it for you! I think a lot of tourists get home with some holy trinkets in their pockets after a trip to Japan. Or you could just keep it because it is beautiful, like I do!
Tokyo is filled with great little galleries scattered all across the metropolis. One gallery that is a little bit different from the others, not only in the art it puts on, but also the building itself, is Scai the Bathhouse. Housed in a Meiji era classic styled former public bathhouse with a gorgeous exterior and a very simple remade interior. Well worth a visit if you have the time and not afraid to take a little walk from the bigger more famous art museums in Ueno.
A couple of weeks ago I visited one of my favorite Yakitori restaurants, Sekai no Yamachan, this time in Okachimachi (or Ueno, depending on how you see it). Sekai no Yamachan is probably the most famous culinary thing to come out of Nagoya and it was in Nagoya I first tried it a few years ago. Nagoya cuisine is mostly renowned for its use of miso in everything. Sort of like the Koreans and kimchi, Nagoyans like their miso in practically everything! Unlike the miso you’ll find outside of Nagoya, this miso is a thick, spicy, rich, paste which I guess could be an acquired taste but most people will get it quickly. This restaurant is especially famous for its spicy crispy chicken wing plates, tebasaki, if you’re only going to eat tebasaki once in Japan, I think this is the place to do it. When you’re seated you’ll get you chop sticks along with an explanation of how to eat the tebasaki (in my opinion the best part is the pointy end, dry as sand and crispy to perfection), you should end up with just three thin bones! There was also a pamphlet with instructions on simple palm reading – maybe useful to break the ice in conversation?
Yamachan also runs a farm that is open to the public and I think they have a guest house offering farm stay experiences where you can try out rice cultivation by hand and other fun looking stuff, in the town of Nakatsugawa (中津川市) in Aichi prefecture. Every restaurant has a small gift shop where you can buy pretty much the perfect souvenirs for your friends back home. Just writing this blogpost has made me hungry again. Maybe it time to visit Yamachan again tonight?