It’s New Year’s Eve, a bit after 6pm Tokyo time, and soon I will depart on my annual New Year’s Eve bus trip, which takes most of the night and ends up somewhere with an eastward sea view, where I and my fellow travelers can watch the first sunrise of the new year. This will be my sixth such voyage, and I have acquired something of a reputation among my friends for bringing good weather, even at times when the forecast was bleak. I may not be so lucky this year, as the sky is totally clouded over, and the predictions are for rain, but I live in hope.
The bus trip is something of a Japanese institution. Every day hundreds of modern buses leave Ikebukuro, Shinjuku or Ueno, loaded with camera-bearing tourists, all headed for one of the myriad ocean or mountain destinations that lie within a day’s trip of Tokyo. The prices are reasonable, usually sixty or eighty dollars for a ten-to-twelve hour trip, which would include lunch, admissions to whatever attractions were scheduled, and of course the round-trip transportation. A typical excursion might include a visit to an onsen (a hot spring / health spa), a stroll through a flower park or a pine forest, a fruit-picking experience (such as a visit to a strawberry field or a peach orchard), and several brief photo-op stops.
The best part, though, is the mandatory stop at whatever sales venue sponsors the trip. It could be a pottery factory, a fish processing plant, a jewelry outlet, just about any sort of shop with suitable bus parking, where the owners feel that they have a chance of separating day trippers from their hard-earned cash. This is quite common all around Asia, as far as I can tell. I have been on similar day excursions in China, Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan, and each offered a “special shopping opportunity” to punctuate the grueling sightseeing schedule.
In one particularly memorable trip, the sales venue was an amethyst shop. One group of fellow travelers hailed from India, and the women in the party were clearly enamored of amethysts. To the men fell the task of negotiating a suitable price for the purchase. The Chinese store owner chattered amiably in her native language while tallying figures on an ancient calculator (not as ancient as an abacus, but pretty old as calculators go). Whatever the final figure, it began with a seven (as in seven thousand monetary units, or 70000, or whatever). The owner smiled at the elderly Indian man, saying in English “This is very good, very good indeed. In China, seven is a very lucky number!” “Really?” he replied, not missing a beat. “In India, six is a very lucky number.” I suspect that a compromise was made somewhere in the neighborhood of 6.5 (which I have also heard rumored to be a very lucky number), as the Indian family carried bags of swag back to the bus at the end of the special shopping opportunity.
I don’t know what shopping experience will be on offer tonight and tomorrow, but I can tell you I’m looking forward to finding out!