Happy New Year, everyone!
Since the clock turned midnight last night to mark the beginning of 2014, millions of Japanese have been flocking to temples and shrines throughout the country to offer their prayers for a good year. If you go to one of the major religious sites here in Tokyo, such as Zojoji near Tokyo Tower or Meiji Jingu next to Harajuku, you will see an impressive annual exercise in mass crowd control. In almost clockwork fashion, wave upon waves of people are cycled through to the heart of the temple/shrine, where they throw a coin into a collector (five or fifty yen coins are considered the luckiest), pray, and go on their merry way.
Of course, after spending so much time standing in line, you end up getting a little hungry. That’s why there are usually food stalls set up at major shrines and temples.
Someone recently asked me if Christmas is a big deal in Japan, and the answer is a definite yes. Christmas has been in full swing here since after Halloween and it’s everything that you would expect from a modern, secular, and commercialized Christmas. Santa Claus. Snowmen. Classic holiday music. Christmas trees decorated with ornaments, tinsel, and presents. And Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Yes, you read that right: KFC, or “Kentakki,” as the locals call it. In Japan, Colonel Sanders is the other old guy with a white beard who is associated with Christmas. But instead of toys, he comes bearing his world famous chicken for good little boys and girls.
This past Sunday, I checked out the Tokyo Food Festival which was held a short walk away from Tokyo Station, in the Maranouchi district. The festival was hosted by Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries to “proclaim the merits of Japanese food,” according to the official English language literature. And what better way to proclaim the glory of your national cuisine than a multi-block street fair with various booths showcasing food products from across Japan, a national contest of local dishes, and sake tasting.