New Year's Eve in Tokyo
Bringing in 2017 in Tokyo - sounds like fun idea, right? I thought so, but then seeds of doubt started to sprout in my mind when I read a few pieces that said in Jap, NYE wasn’t about partying but rather the focus was on visiting temples and shrines on the 1st. My cousin who was travelling through Korea and Japan at the same time said they were purposely staying in Korea until the 1st because they heard NYE is a bit of dud in Japan. I was sceptical about this, how can NYE be a dud anywhere? I understood that for a lot of Asian cultures NYE didn’t have a significant cultural significance but I was confident that we could find some celebrations to partake in.
A quick Google search confirmed that there would be a few different ways to celebrate in Tokyo, including club events and something called a fox parade where locals dressed up as foxes and parade from one shrine to another but the best sounded like the countdown event at Tokyo Tower where you can gather at the tower and bring in the new year with a release of balloons and a firework display off the tower.
|My vision for NYE. Source: Huffington Post|
Fast forward to 4pm on the 31st of December and we are leisurely getting ready for our big night and I Google the best vantage spots for the tower, which is when I discover that there is no longer going to be a countdown event held at Tokyo Tower! No balloon release, no fireworks and no 3,2,1, Happy New Year! I naturally have a first world problem panic attack and frantically begin searching for alternatives. “Hooters apparently goes off….” I tell my partner. Were we that desperate? I then find an article that says that people generally gather at Shibuya crossing for a countdown, which they close off to traffic from 10pm. Shibuya it is.
We arrive at Shibuya a bit after 10pm and are surprised to find that the famous scramble crossing is less busy than it is during the day. There are a people milling around the edges of the streets, cameras set up and a few people sipping on a sneaky drink but it certainly doesn’t feel festive. We decide to leave the crossing and walk around, and we encounter more people drinking on the streets but we also overhear some dubious tourists questioning if they should leave and find somewhere else for the countdown. The streets slowly begin to fill up with people (some even in costume) but it certainly isn’t crowded. We return to the crossing and by now the traffic has been closed so we get to stand in the centre of the crossing, which is actually pretty cool. A few of the billboards welcome you to NYE Shibuya so we are definitely in the right place. There is a small van with four policemen on top of it and they watch over us, occasionally saying something in Japanese over the loudspeaker. I read that they refer to these officers as DJ police because they play music and they are usually instructing people in a witty manner. Because of the overly polite nature of Japan, when the police officers spot someone doing something against the rules (like sitting on someone’s shoulders) all they have to do is gesture to the person and say something in their loudspeaker and the offender stops what they are doing. The officers never have to leave their post and the crowd always obliges with the DJ polices’ requests.
|Standing in the middle of the famous crossing, awaiting 2017|
As it gets closer to midnight the streets get more and more crowded until we are shoulder to shoulder with people and no longer feel the cold. There is no music playing (other than the quiet beats of the DJ police which is now drowned out by the noise of the crowd) but the mood definitely begins to feel more festive as groups of people sporadically break into chants or dance and begin to get more chatty with each other. 80% of the crowd are drinking despite the billboards flashing that drinking on the streets is not allowed. Obviously this not enforced as the DJ police never mention it (or maybe they do but we don’t understand Japanese). And although people are drinking it never gets rowdy or violent. Maybe it’s because the billboards are also encouraging us to be polite and well-mannered.
Soon it is a few minutes until midnight and we have all watched a video play on the billboards about different people’s wishes for 2017. We saw locals wish for their businesses to succeed in the New Year, wish to create a sense of community, wish for same sex marriage to be legalised. It is a nice feel good video and primes us for the countdown.
And its on! We are squished together and swaying with the crowd as we countdown. 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1. Happy New Year! We all cheer as one and then hug our loved ones and wish strangers around us a happy new year. The more “merry” ones (i.e drunk ones) begin to hug strangers and wish them as they make their way through the crowd. Only a few minutes into 2017 and the crowd begins to try and move out of the crossing area. Ride along with the tides of people or you will be squished. Or more squished than when you ride the tides. Then the waves of people wash you up to the side streets and you can breathe.
|Post countdown billboard display|
It definitely wasn’t like the New Year’s Eve celebrations we have in Sydney. There was no spectacular display of fireworks. There was no music. There was no dressing up. It wasn’t the most festive way to bring in the year but it certainly was unique and for that reason will be a new year’s eve I will never forget.