Man, I can’t believe it’s been a year since I was in Japan.

Man, I can’t believe how long I’ve left it since I last blogged about anything, never mind my travel ramblings.

Still, it’s kind of nice to have the two sync up like this. I had been distracted by the hard decision of looking at either New Year celebrations or cakes (for down suh paths goes my rationalising mind), but time and opportunity make silly buggers of us all. That and I have held A Terrible New Years Secret for which I still feel mildly, irrationally guilty about.

Man, this time last year was far more interesting than this time this year, where I sit in my brother’s flat away from The Woman I Love for reasons not nearly so intriguing or enigmatic as the scant information would imply. Unless you have already inferred, dear gentle reader, that I am being willfully tedious, in which case dang.

New Years Eve in Japan has ruined the effort of trying celebrate the New Year anywhere else. It’s not that they do anything particularly differently – although having a public transport system that doesn’t shut down because people want to get sloshed is just Jim Dandy – but they roll it out on a much larger, more welcoming scale than I’ve been previously used to. In Ireland, everyone crowds into a small house/dingy pub/overpriced nightclub, proceeding from there to have difficulty getting served, losing half of their drinks on the hustle and bustle of the barely-moving crowd, before eventually giving up post-sing-song session to have a raging hangover. In Japan, the entire family go out to the park, chuck money at a drum and then eat delicious food with hot sake.

We had been to Harujuku Park for New Years Eve the first time we visited the country and had planned to go elsewhere this time around.  Our reduced time in Tokyo following our enstrandenment * in London meant a lot of changes to our plans, and since we didn’t have the time on the ground to recce a new visit, we decided to keep it simple. At least this time we wouldn’t go through the wrong exit and then have to circumnavigate the entire damn park to get back to the train station…

This time around, we also got there much earlier: first time around, we were in the middle of the throng; this time around, we were at the very front. We were at the rails, man – if it was a concert, we could get spluttered by the sweat of the band. Instead of not really know what was going on, we got to see the New Year ceremony (lots of ribbons and drums), and I knew not to miss the greeting cheer this time (which is a mellow and laidback thing, not the raucous air punch of back home). The only problem was that we got there *so* early we were stuck waiting for hours. And it was cold. We were at least clever enough to bring our winter jackets, but cold it yet remained. But we did our thing, chucked our coins and headed out of the central area, to the stalls with wards and charms for the New Year.

Remember how I spoke of how I held a Terrible Secret from this night? It all happened here. Have you noticed how terrible 2011 has been? It’s all my fault. I tempted Fate, and Fate can really play a mean game of Stares. I wrote this:

Then I blinked.

There was another tablet, dedicated to a friend and their significant other. They broke up a few weeks later.

Then the Eurozone went kersplunk.

Then Fine Gael got into power.

It’s all my fault!

It doesn’t help that my fortune was a thing most grim: it took us weeks to find someone who could understand it, longer to find someone who could translate it, and when I then learned its meaning, I tried to be optimistic about it. Roughly speaking, it went something like this: To overcome a bloody big mountain, you will have to start climbing at the bottom of a deep dang pit.

Now I avoid all cracks in the pavement and throw salt over my shoulder to play it safe. But yes: World, I am sorry that I messed up 2011.

New Years Day is similarly neat – the previous trip, we had gone over convinced that everything shut down for the day. Oh ho ho! We were foolish westerners, us! Last time, I became a licensed Gundam pilot and fought inside a huge robot pod. This time around, we thought we would be a bit more spiritual and head to one of Olivia’s favourite destinations, Asakusa.

We thought it was busy the previous night with around a couple of million people showing up. We knew nothing. Asakusa was jampacked like we had only otherwise seen on morning rush hour trains. Only this was entire streets of packedness.

It was crazy and bewildering. We had been to Asakusa a number of times on the previous trip, and Liv had adored the tranquility there (tucked away in the centre of Tokyo). It took her aback to see the place practically hopping.

I did however eat yet another delicious slab of food without any real idea of what it was.

I want to say kim chi? I have no idea. Liv kept it simple.

The next day was of little interest to people other than us – we wandered Shibuya and Shinjuku in search of clothing suitable for the bathhouses we would be visiting in Yudanaka**. Why then continue on? Because of The Best Soy Sauce Dispenser EVAR!

The food was good too, but in Japan that goes without saying.

* (Probably) not a real word, but it should be.

** With a brief stop-off in Harujuku because 1. I needed some heavy clothes to deal with the impending cold of north Japan, and 2. the inexplicable urge to start a tradition of buying a t-shirt from Harada’s during every trip I make to Japan. Why there? No idea. I just remember going in there on the last day we had in Japan during the first trip in search of a particular Evangelion shirt and left with a bunch of proper shirts I still wear to this day. Wait, I think I’ve just answered the why… What’s fantastic is that while the structures of Harujuku remain unchanged, the styles of most of the shops were completely different except for Harada’s. I think I love it there.)