Wednesday, 2 January 2013

"Happy New Year!"


Teramachi is one of those roads that looks like an indoor shopping mall but is actually open air. These are fun little places because they have the most discordant combination of buildings and architecture imaginable, like a seven-story cineplex next to a mom-and-pop restaurant, or an izakaya that appears to be inside another building. There's also a small, but dignified, partially enclosed Shinto shrine, and at 11 pm on December 31st a small crowd had assembled to pray, one of a few typically Japanese activities that take place around this time.

Japan enjoys an explosion of drinking parties just before and just after the New Year, owing to a phenomenon known as bounenkai and shinnenkai. At the bounenkai, we get together to forget all the terrible things that happened to us last year, I guess by drinking so hard that we damage our long-term memory. And then a few weeks later, the shinnenkai represent another set of shindigs in the hopes that we will naturally attract luck and success to ourselves, you know, by starting the year off right.

Ever the cultural explorer, in the spirit of this local custom I held a little last-minute bounenkai of my own, getting plastered on the bank of the Kamogawa. It was extremely classy. Thus equipped, I melted back into the crowd, and unlike what happened last time, I managed not to get angsty about it. Instead I was just baffled by all the white faces.

Kyouto is a pretty touristy place to begin with, no doubt seeing the highest volume of foreign visitors after Toukyou. But the last few days have been just unreal. They're swarming all over town! Makes me feel territorial. Lately they've even begun to venture as deeply as Kiyamachi, which I'd always assumed to be a bit of enclave away from unwanted visitors, what with its slight seediness and immediate proximity to brighter, more inviting streets. It would seem that in their numbers, they have grown bolder.

I can't imagine what would draw so many people here in the Christmas-New Year's period. I mean, I'd expect your average family of four to prefer a more relaxed time at home. And yet here they are. Naturally, anytime a group draws near I try to assume the air of a local. That's right, I live here, in fact I'm on my way to go do important stuff. What of it?

They've even hired a white guy at Zaza's. He greeted me with, holy shit, “How's it going?” Fuckin' Americans, talk to me like they know me. Like always, of course, I ignored him, except this time I was also annoyed about it. Presumptuous prick.

But as vexing as all that is, none of it really matters. What's important is that I was astride my very favourite street in that magical moment, repeated a number of times in accordance with differently synced clocks. A handful of guys, a huge group of girls, and, best of all, an adorable couple all fired their exultations down Kiyamachi, and alone though I was I couldn't help but feel that we were all sharing in something spectacular, however small. Better yet, the foreigners had all disappeared by then, so my self-identity as exotic other was allowed to persist another night.

I stopped in at Yoshinoya, arriving at the same time as three hot girls. One of them caught my eye and I flashed her my most dashing smile as we all sat down. Minutes later, my hand slipped and my bowl disgorged a flood of miso shiiru all over the countertop, my phone, and myself. Another couple of guys showed up, and we began to chat. The more aggressive of the two tried to see if any of the three girls would take me home. Shockingly, there were no takers.

On the other hand, they bought me a beer. Not the first time I've taken advantage of the senpai-kouhai system, and it won't be the last. Love it. Sometimes you just have to lean back and laugh.

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