Akemashita Omedeeto! (or as you Anglophones say, Happy New Year)

January 7, 2012

It has become a Japanese New Year’s Eve tradition for me to go on a celebratory bus tour with Saki and Masako (and fifty-odd other well-lubricated revelers). Typically we leave Tokyo in late afternoon or early evening, merge onto the crowded highway, en route to our first (and arguably most important) destination, the service area pee stop. There will be at least a couple of those along the way, as the median age of the group is well into the, um, golden years. By midnight or thereabouts, we arrive at a temple or shrine, to bow our heads in supplication to the pantheon of Japanese gods for a happy upcoming year, and to divest ourselves of five-yen coin offerings wherever an opportunity presents itself. At the appointed time, we make our way back to the bus, bound for the coast to freeze our butts off awaiting the first sunrise of the year.

This year we went to Ise Jingu, several hours drive south of Tokyo, near the bustling port city of Nagoya. It is said to be the home of Yata no Kagami, the Sacred Mirror, one of the holiest of Shinto relics. The mirror is not for mere mortals to see, however, as it reflects capital-T Truth, and as highly regarded Western Lama Jack Nicholson once observed, “You can’t handle the truth!” The shrine dates back at least fifteen hundred years (although some estimates place its beginnings as early as a couple of centuries BC), and it is faithfully reconstructed every twenty years. There are two building sites adjacent to one another, and the shrine alternates between the two; the new building is completed before the old one is torn down to ensure a seamless transition of the deity within. The next rebuilding will take place in 2013.

Note: if you click on the pictures, wait until they reload, and then click on them again, you can see quite a large high-res version, perhaps four times the size you see here.

Ritual washing of hands before prayer


Paper lanterns with Ise Jingu crest, or "mon"


Old World courtyard in purples and yellows


Awaiting their turn to pray


Sake casks, a part of the ritual that resonates with me...

The village adjacent to Ise Jingu stays open until the wee hours, offering food, incense, charms, and various handcrafts (thankfully, no cheesy T-shirts). One shop that caught my fancy had a selection of colored thread or string, intricately woven into watchbands, belts, toys and charms:

Where it begins...

Are these cute or what?


My personal favorite, the Puffer Fish

The food was pretty amazing as well, especially the fish. The happy guy pictured here is grilling smallish silvery fish in their entirety. You eat the head, the tail, the fins, even the bones. He cuts them into pieces with heavy-duty scissors, and puts them on a plate, upon which customers descend in a decidedly un-Japanese feeding frenzy:

1000 yen for a big box o' fish, about $12


Hung out to dry...


Those who live by the sword, dry by the sword...


Town Square Pavilion


Back across the wooden bridge to the bus...

In the morning, a cloud bank hung on the horizon, and it seemed unlikely that we would get to see the sunrise. But my luck held out (I am batting 1000 thus far), and the juxtaposing of sun and clouds made for a dramatic and auspicious beginning to the New Year:

Akemashita Omedeeto!



The Tokyo Motor Show

January 7, 2012
“Kuruma otaku” (car geeks) of Japan, in whose number I proudly stand up to be counted, eagerly await the biennial Tokyo Motor Show. 2011 marks the third time I have made the pilgrimage. The 2007 show was amazing, easily the largest and most diverse gathering of new cars I have ever seen at one time. The 2009 show, not so much; thanks to the lagging economy, many of the major players bowed out, leaving lingering doubts about the future of the auto industry as a whole. For 2011, however, the auto makers are back with a vengeance, displaying daring (and often downright weird) prototypes, high-zoot luxo-rides, and a wide variety of crossover “lifestyle” vehicles. Many of these offer non-mainstream fuel sources: hybrid gas/electric; plug-in electric; solar; CNG, and more. If r-and-d guys ever find a way to extract power from the stars, it is a safe bet that a Suzuki Starlight, a Nissan Nebula or a Toyota Twinkle will grace the Tokyo Motor Show the following year.

In the time-honored tradition of letting the pictures do the talking, here are some photos of this year’s (okay, technically last year’s) Tokyo Motor Show:

Tokyo Big Sight, Home of the Tokyo Motor Show


The Tokyo Big Sight saw sculpture


There are cars, and then there are CARS


Tokyo FM was on hand, or more to the point, "on ear"...


Cruising around the gymkhana area, note the cool blue Renault


My next car, if they make a convertible this color...


BMW makes eco sexy!


But they may have lost the thread with the new matte-finish paint...


The show's most anticipated vehicle, the Toyota FunVII


Time out


Count on tiny Daihatsu to bring some fun to the show...


This Daihatsu makes the Nissan Cube look positively spherical...


Suzuki channels its inner Citroen


Is it a really small car? Is it a really big CD player?


Honda steps up its game


R2D2 on steroids


Channel your inner hippie with VW's new microbus


Smart car, with optional cheese grater grille and roof


These colors just shouldn't work together, but somehow they do


I like this Nissan a lot; let's hope it sees production!


Possibly the prettiest (get ready for this...) Mazda (!) ever

And, if a new car is not on your horizon in the immediate future, perhaps I can interest you in a motorcycle, a scooter, or a push bike: