By the way, having lived in  Japan for this whole year I never heard that song played here until New Year's  Eve.› Anyway now on to my New Year's in Japan...drum  roll›please.
››› So Rafi and  I were back from our Thailand trip on Sunday the 26th and we returned to work  the next day.› That Tuesday was the official last working day of the  year.› I walked in, the bell chimed at 8:30am followed by the usual  announcements and bows all around and then I sat down following a pattern that  has been beat into my head since I first came here, but this day was  different.› Just then as I was checking my email, I noticed everyone in my  office with either rag or mop in hand.› My direct supervisor got up on his  desk and made his way to the light overhead.› One of the ladies that had  just served me and the rest of us tea said something to me in Japanese and took  the tea away.› I was I to know that this day would be the "Cleaning Day  >from H--E--double chopsticks"?› Everyone started wiping down things, moving  furniture and rolling up their sleeves.› I felt a little lost.› Was  there a system to this?› The Japanese have a system for everything.›  At first I thought I wanted to help, but what if I interfere with the system and  just get in the way.› If they had a system for cleaning did they include my  duties?› So far no one told me to clean but I was the only one not cleaning  and I felt a little left out.› Well I wasn't going to have them think I was  "above" cleaning so I asked for a rag.› They were a little shocked that I  wanted to join in and scurried for some kind of rag.› Now I had a wet rag  in my hand, dripping on the floor...what now?› Okay, look around and see  what needs to be cleaned...learned that logic from the parents...thanks  M&D.› Well there was a top of a file cabinet that was yet to be  touched...I was off on my cleaning journey.› We were done after a couple  hours, but I think that time was stretched out to its maximum because people  weren't in a hurry to go back to real work.›
››› The rest of  day went pretty much as any other day until 3pm.› That was when the whole  town office got together for the year-end meeting.› From what I observed it  was a few speeches given by the higher ups...i.e. the mayor...saying how the  past year was a success and thanking everyone for their effort.› Then each  section of the town office had a separate meeting, I think doing the same thing  and then we were dismissed.› By the way, cleaning for the New Year is a  tradition in Japan.› Everyone cleans their workplaces and their  homes...much like our Spring-cleaning in America.
››› So I was off  to Kiryu to join Rafi and our trip to Tokyo where we would spend New  Year's.› We were going to stay with a couple that Rafi knows and who I know  now having seen them on a few occasions prior.› We stayed in Tokyo for...I  think 4 days.› I learned more about the Japanese New Year there.› For  example, another Japanese tradition for New Year's is to send out New Year's  cards to everyone...much like our tradition at Christmas.› Most of these  cards are computer-generated postcards with a message.› Also there is a  special type of dinner people eat for New Year's Day.› It has many  different kinds of food that is only eaten for that day.› One very common  food item is Omochi.› How does one describe it?› Okay, it looks like  uncooked bread dough and is placed in soups mostly.› It is extremely chewy  and many times it comes in huge sizes...maybe a few inches across so you either  have to cut it or pick it up and tear off a piece.› We were told that many  older people and some children sometimes choke on comforting for New  Year's.›Another food is black beans...reminded me of my days in New  Orleans.› Anyway that was the food that stuck in my  throat...uh...mind.›
››› Oh now  about›our New Year's Eve.›First it is›tradition to eat soba  noodles, which are made from buckwheat.› Another tradition is to visit a  shrine.› The most traditional place to go to in all Japan is the Meji  Shrine in Tokyo.› When New Year's is shown across the world that place in  shown in Japan.› So we waited with the thousands of other people and it was  getting really place to midnight, but you had to remind yourself of it because  there wasn't any kind of countdown...nothing.› Then a monk hits the drum  and that was the "New Year's Celebration".› There were a few yells in the  crowd saying "Happy New Year" but that was from the few foreigners that were  there.› The Japanese were, in my opinion, extremely reserved.› Talk  about anticlimactic.› That was the start of the millennium?› We waited  a thousand years to watch some guy hit a drum in almost complete silence?›  Are you kidding me?› Where's the fireworks, the confetti?› Where's the  hype, the fireworks?› Did I mention there weren't any fireworks  there?› Not even a balloon launch.› Rafi and I just kinda stood  there...looked at each other and I said, "I guess that was it."› Then we  continued to walk the way into the shrine where it is tradition to throw money  at the base and hope for a good New Year.› I say the base because at first  I thought one was just supposed to throw money as far as he could so I took a  ten-yen coin and from 60yrds away made it to the roof...then I found out about  the base part.› A side note is that we were warned before venturing out  that people try to throw money from way back in line and sometimes people don't  quite make it to the shrine and get someone's unknowing head instead.› No  problem there this time.› So then we left and that was the "excitement" for  New Year's.› About 30mns later Rafi said..."Oh yeah Happy New Year"  which I retorted, "Oh...right...Happy New Year"...the delay in saying it should  tell you how much we were out of it.› Many Japanese people go to a mountain  or other good place and watch the sunrise.› We skipped  this.
››› So to cut  some more things out that don't matter all that much we were back to our homes  and I started work the next day.› Work started out the same way it ended  but in opposite order.› First each town office section, mine being the  Board of Education, got together for a meeting and then after the whole town  office got together for a meeting.› I don't know exactly but based on what  I know about the Japanese I'm sure each speech said something along the lines  of..."this is a New Year...please do your best this year and treat me  kindly."› Also the "new" employees from last year give a short speech  saying they are new and they hope their working relationship with the rest of  the office goes well.› I say "new" because all of them were hired last  April so they've been working at this job for 8 months but this is the only  opportunity they can address the whole body.› On a side note the Japanese  are hired in April...and April only.› So great bonds are formed with those  people a person is hired with.› Also April is the time people get  transferred or retire.› People only stay in a job position for so long and  then are transferred.› Not a promotion really just a different job.›
››› Throughout  the rest of the day, and even now, I›am on "Bow Watch".› People that  I've never seen before come in and depending on their importance either the  whole office stands up and bows or just a section does when he comes to  it.› I never know which to do so I just watch what everyone else  does.› Many times a business card is given.› Again each person says in  Japanese "Happy New Year" and "I hope we have a good relationship this  year."
››› Well that  basically was my New Year.› I've come a long way in my understanding of  Japan's New Year's.› I remember last year when my barber's wife gave me an  omochi branch that consisted of colored omochi (it's the food mentioned before  but I didn't know that) balls that are stuck to a little tree branch like  marshmallows.› Well last year the thought crossed my mind that it was a  decoration and maybe I should stick it in my "lawn" (there aren't really in  lawns in Japan).› Glad I didn't do that since I later learned it was for  roasting on the fire...once again like marshmallows.› I'm sure if I did  though it would have been quite the story with the townspeople.›
›››  That sums it up.