I remember sitting on my sofa in England on New Year’s day 2000, watching the television news. The “millenium bug” hadn’t wiped out all our computers as predicted, and no asteroids or aliens had come. Instead, the news programme was reporting how people all over the world had celebrated the biggest night of the century, the previous night. They showed footage of jubilant merrymakers dancing on the streets of Rio De Janeiro, people in Times Square wearing novelty “2000” sunglasses and hugging under a sky lit up by fireworks.
Then they cut to Japan, where a group of very sober and serious looking folk were standing in line outside a temple, shivering and exhaling clouds of condensation. This didn’t strike me as a the most fun way to celebrate “the party of a lifetime.”
I’ve since come to learn that in Japan, New Year’s Eve is all about visiting temples and praying, or staying home and spending time with the family, (as oppose to drinking yourself to oblivion, like myself.) It’s a bit like Christmas day at home, I suppose.
Ask the average Japanese person how they plan to spend New Year’s Eve, and they’ll tell you that they’re going to watch an annual girls-versus-boys singing contest on the NHK channel.
Now, I’m not one to judge, but that sounds about as exciting as reading women’s magazines in a dentist’s waiting room.
It is, however, excellent news for me, because it means that I can go out in town without having to deal with all the usual New Year’s nightmares. On New Year’s Eve at home, the bars and clubs are bank-drainingly expensive to get into, and rammed full of wasted, sweaty people who only go out about twice a year and can’t handle their drink and, consequently, bumble around jeering and farting. It also takes about two hours of interminable waiting to get served at the bar. This makes December 31st, hands down, the worst night of the year to leave the house.
On the eve of the millenium, I spent the night freezing my nuts off in Trafalguar square, watching fireworks with about a million other people, trying to acrobatically dodge puddles of steaming puke and avoid being crushed to death. It was like being in some kind of hellish, post-apocalyptic refugee camp. I spent much of the night repeatedly failing to get into any pubs because they were all too busy or had uptight dress codes. I eventually walked dejectedly home because it was impossible to find a taxi.
There won’t be such woe this year in Japan, oh no.
This New Year’s Eve, I can happily stroll into my local pub and meet my friends just like any other night, without paying to get in or waiting to get served. Bliss.
(…Unless, of course, it’s f***ing closed!)