This is a great article about Europe and something I think we in the US are facing in a less constructive way.
Osoji (AKA: the big year-end cleaning)
So we cleaned our offices from top to bottom, since in Japan there aren’t cleaning staff that do anything in any of the office. We even take out our own garbage, etc. throughout the year. I don’t think much was cleaned during the year considering the muck we got from the shelves, windows, floors, etc., but we got it clean and even had a bit of time to work before our office party. I also did Osoji at home since I figured “why not?”
Bonenkei (AKA: “forget the year” party)
Oh man, it was a blast! We had many wonderful courses of food and drink (an-zhu-shu [apricot wine] & kae-ki-shu [flower wine] were my favorites) at a Chinese restaurant called Aberdeen—don’t know why it’s called that and the sign is in English, but it was good! After having a fun time at dinner and being amazed at how much some people could drink, some of us decided to go to Karaoke!
So, we got there and got into our room and people were still drinking strong. I was done by then, but decided to have a bunch of ka-ru-pi-sus (AKA: sweet, carbonated, citrusy drink that has milk) since I wanted to drink something to stay hydrated. Oh, it was a blast! I was so happy that some of the people in the office I don’t know so well came so we were able to have some fun with them as well. Man, the photos don’t lie, we were being as silly as can be and enjoyed every minute of it! At the end of the evening, one of my colleagues had had more than I thought was possible…I kept anticipating he’d be sick or something, so when we left everyone was on there way and he was kind of lingering in the parking lot with his bike just waving bye-bye to everyone. It looked kind of funny. When I got home, I phoned him to be sure he at least made it home ok. Needless, to say, he did.
Okonomiyaki, Onsen, Oh my!
Ok, I should tell you now that I have become a greater Foody that even before! I have decided that I need to try all I can and also try every Okonomiyaki shop I can find in the immediate area. I even got a phone charm with a lil’ Oko-buddy! : ) Fortunately, I have also met others with this sick disposition and we have formed a loose group to compare cafeterias, restaurants, cafes, etc. Earlier this week, I met two women from Russia and Uzbekastan of this new-found group for okonomiyaki at one of their favorite places, I had not previously visited. We had dinner and over dinner, I learned that they had both been in Saijo for several years. They are also big fans of onsen or the public bath-houses in the area. When they heard I hadn’t been, they just about jumped out of their skins planning for when I could join them to go sometime. Now, I am not an especially shy person when I know what I am getting myself into, but I had heard much—good and bad—about onsen and was still not quite sure about checking it out for myself. We tentatively set Sunday as the day we would go, which was fine, until I later found out that besides us, there would also be a bunch of colleagues joining us for the co-ed onsen. I think I would prefer to go alone or with only one or two other people, not a whole office for my first time at onsen. Un/Fortunately, it didn’t work out time-wise, so maybe next time… Regardless, I imagined going to onsen with my whole office and that just seemed odd to me—but then I have never been, so what am I talking about?!?
I decided to go to H City for a bit of a wander-about, people watching, and to do a bit of shopping for a few items I couldn’t find at prices I wanted to pay in Saijo. So, I took the bus to the train, the train to the tram, and the tram to the Hondori or covered shopping arcade in city center. It was hopping like mad since it was only two days before Christmas and I enjoyed watching all of the people wandering about. There were buskers and barkers and beggars in addition to all of the shoppers and store-keeps. Definitely a vibrant time and place. I took my time and slowly found what I was seeking. A little later I met some friends and had coffee and conversation. All in all it was a nice day away from the norm.
Christmas eve was a busy, but nice day, all in all. I met friends for lunch at an Italian restaurant. Then a colleague picked me up to help her with some research. We took our time and had some teas/hot drinks I had never tried before and one of which I fell in love with. After a quick stop by the grocery, I went home to prepare some rice crispy bars for the potluck later that evening.
I was joining another colleague and her family to go to their Catholic church for mass and then a potluck dinner. The mass was quite the same as in the US except entirely in Japanese—I only heard a couple of words of Latin even. However, it was also a very Japanese mass. What I mean by that is that folks would bow a great deal. For example, rather than shake hands during the sharing of the Peace they would bow. Also as part of prayers, blessing of the wafers/wine, and the such. I expected it for the sharing of the Peace, but not in all of the other places it popped up.
After the service, everyone set up for the potluck in another building near the church. When everything was set up, there was a kind of opening remarks (like at most functions I have attended), then everyone could eat. During the remarks I looked over the foods on the table thinking of my Lutheran church potlucks from my high school & college years and this was quite different, but quite the same. It was the same in that there was: too much food for everyone, bowls of fruit, a lot of basic foods that are yummy and eat well in such a setting, and plenty of kids about. It was different in that much of the food was quite Japanese. What I mean by that is that to see sushi rolls on the table wasn’t so odd since I am in Japan, but when I had the potato salad, I hadn’t expected the spicy little fish eggs that was part of the mayo sauce. I loved it, but didn’t realize it initially.
I do need to say here that the first thing I dove for once someone told me “dozo” [please take something] was tacos that I had spotted. I have missed very little beyond the people from home, however Mexican food has been hounding me incessantly in the recesses of my mind. I could break down and buy the stuff at much higher prices than at home, but it’s no fun if it’s just me. Hmmm, I feel a taco party coming on…
After church, we went back to her house and visited with her family for a while. They are really nice and I like them. Before we knew it, it was midnight and so the evening came to a close.
December 25th is like any other regular day—even my Japanese class was in session, though I chose to skip it since I really didn’t feel it right and realized that there were many others that would also not attend due to the holiday or traveling. I had plans to meet a colleague for lunch and she ended up treating me since it was my first Christmas in Japan, was here on my own, etc. She took me to a restaurant I had seen often enough since it’s very close to campus, but I thought it was too dear of a place for me to afford. In fact, it is nice and the prices are quite reasonable—the food was stellar! The meal was “Viking” style or a buffet/smorgasboard as we call it at home. It was the first time I had seen such a buffet in Japan, but it was nice to be able to try so many different foods at the same time. We had our fill and decided to go to the movies. Here, we both like movies and hadn’t been for a long while. We saw “Man on Fire” with Denzel Washington and it was a great movie, though a bit grisly. It was my first time in a movie theater since arriving and it was all in all the same as at home. The film was in English with Japanese sub-titles and people were absolutely silent for the duration of the movie. Even at the really funny parts, nothing…until the end, it seemed as though everyone in the theater was all weepy. After the film, we decided to wander the mall a little bit before heading back to our studies and reading. It was a nice way to spend the holiday.