New Year's is big in Japan. The first thing I noticed when getting back into town (right after Ryan pointed it out to me) is the presence of bits of greenery on all of the businesses. Some just have a sprig of pine leaves around their doorway; others sport an elaborate bouquet like the one on the left. You can make your own doorway decorations at various stands around town (like the one below). We opted for a very simple one with some squares of white paper hanging from a loop of grass.
On New Year's eve we first went to see Avatar (in 3D - very cool!) and then came home to make some nabe in the new bowl that Ryan gave me for Christmas (it tasted much better than it looks). After we dug out all the chunks, we cooked soba noodles in the remaining broth. We were told that you are supposed to have soba noodles as your last meal of the year because they bring long life.
Then the tradition is to bundle up and head to your favorite shrine for the midnight celebration. On only this one night, subways run 24 hrs to allow people to do this. Like everyone else, we stood in line to toss money, ring the bell (attached to those long lengths of fabric), clap two times and say a prayer.
We decided to do this all at the shrine in Kita-ku (where Ryan took Japanese lessons) because they were additionally having a fox-celebration.
We still aren't entirely sure what the fox celebration is all about, but they had a little parade after midnight and lots of folks either wore makeup or a mask (or both). Sake and mulled wine were sold by vendors to keep the blood warm while watching the parade inch by.