So, here we were in the Year of the Boar.
Cloudy start so probably a good thing I didn’t head out to find somewhere to watch the sunrise (an auspicious start to the New Year in Japan). There was a cockerel crowing, so I knew it was definitely morning.
Luckily one of our regular go-to coffee places Doutor was open – very little else was. Had a cake that looked like it was topped with soba noodles – v good – soba are traditionally eaten as another good luck New Year dish.
UPDATE: just found out this was a Mont Blanc, a version of a French pastry, the ‘noodles’ are actually a chestnut puree – still like the thought of it representing soba though!
Walked up to the castle grounds to watch performances by a local taiko drum preservation society. They were excellent, and it was a good wake up call for 2019. Locals were engaging in another new Year tradition – kite flying in the grounds. The queues at the small shrine at the castle were huge – as they would be at shrines all over Japan today.
Sampled a trio of shochu (local spirit, made with either barley, sweet potato or rice, these were rice based) alongside my good pal Kumamon, the mascot of Kumamoto. Judging by the photo of him at the bar he had something of a drink problem, but at least didn’t fall off his stool. I’ve seen him in many places on my travels, he has been an effective goodwill and fundraising ambassador to help Kumamoto after the earthquake of 2016.
Tram down to visit the Kengun shrine, unusual as the shrine torii (gate) was located on the main road by the tramlines, 1.2km away. Arrow straight road with stone lanterns lining it (increasing in frequency as you got closer to the shrine). They’d turned it into a one way street, using the return lane a a car park, with lots of people guiding the busy traffic – very practical, very Japanese.
Didn’t go into the shrine, the queues were again very long, and didn’t like to feel like I was taking someone else’s spot.
Tram back to walk around Suizenji gardens again, green tea and a sweet, more queues at the garden shrine. Took the opportunity to lose the ‘fortune’ I’d picked up on the Osaka bar tour – these are wrapped around sets of chopsticks. Jason and Taryn got good ones, but Yaeko and I scored poorly – still haven’t translated what it actually said – and the tradition is to take it to a shrine and tie it to the long strings there in the hope of increasing your luck.
Japan Post workers were still out on their scooters delivering mail at 7pm. The Japanese don’t do Christmas cards, but another New Year tradition was ‘nengajo’, New Year’s cards.
Much like our Christmas cards, and guaranteed to be delivered on New Year’s Day if posted before a certain date and marked correctly. So one of their busiest days of the year.
Sadly once again most of the restaurants and bars were shut (and would remain so until the 3rd) so I missed my favourite Kumamoto ramen and a chance to visit the regulars at Voyager. Ah well, the katsu place I found did an awesome cutlet set – pork loin, pork filler, and hamburger stuffed with gouda cheese.