First Sunrise in the Land of the Rising Sun, 2013

January 19, 2013

It has become a New Year’s Eve tradition for me to set off on a bus tour with Saki and Masako to some scenic vantage point from which to watch the first sunrise of the New Year. Each time, the comfy tour bus has been filled with well-oiled revelers who became progressively more well-oiled with each passing hour. The schedule is usually some small variation on this theme: leave Tokyo around 9pm; drive for a couple of hours during which the conductor prattles on incessantly, every so often occasioning applause or group expressions of sugoi (kinda like “wow”) or suburashii (wonderful), which I join in enthusiastically, despite the fact that I have no earthly clue what she has been talking about; arrive at the first rest stop, a necessary evil as most of the passengers are of an age that they need the washroom facilities rather more often than they used to, and then of course they need to top up their diminished blood/alcohol ratio soon after (in the digital age, I tend to think of this as biological downloading and uploading).

Before midnight we arrive at a temple, where white-robed priests will literally ring in the New Year using a striker about the size  of a truncated phone pole on a bronze bell that would make the Liberty Bell look like (and undoubtedly sound like) a weak sister. Everyone bows, prays, dispenses five-yen coins into conveniently located receptacles, and mouths slurred but well-meaning wishes of akemashita omedeeto (Happy New Year) to one another. Then in orderly Japanese fashion, everyone files back to the bus for a snooze before sunrise, and perhaps the first tiny drinkee of the New Year. Around 4:30am, the bus driver, possibly the onlyperson on the bus besides yours truly who is not totally in his cups, starts the grumbly diesel engine, and we make our way into the night—to the ocean, perhaps, or to a vantage point west of Fuji-san, from which the sun will illuminate the mountain from behind, slowly turning the snow-capped peak a lovely shade of pale rose pink as the first sun rays pierce the eastern sky.

Cynic that I sometimes am, I nonetheless continue to find this scene incredibly renewing and unspeakably beautiful. Happy New Year, everyone!