Having left Korea just after Christmas, the move to Japan during the New Year’s holidays is quite a shock with its mix of old and new traditions. The sights and atmosphere made quite an impact and, in retrospect, captured the essence of today’s Japan.
If someone wants to feel a connection to the past, Tokyo holds a large variety of temples and shrines. Buddhist temples around Japan ring their bells 108 times to get rid of the 108 human sins (108 Defilements of Buddhism).
If someone wants to get lost in the numerous temptations of the material world, in the first few weeks of the year, many (if not all) shops, big and small, prepare the popular Fubukuburo (“Lucky/Mystery Bag”). They are usually just plain red bags with only a price tag on (to get an idea). Each shop gives smaller or bigger hints as to what each different type of bag can contain and how much the items could be worth.
The main idea is that the shop can get rid of last year’s models while the customers might be able to snatch up a bargain. While some shops do have some quite exciting proposals (Apple seems to do it best), the outcome is still based on chance, making some people very happy and others disappointed. That’s why, more than the Fukuburo, one should look out for the “Unlucky Bags”, which is when people who received something they didn’t want sell their unwanted prizes.
Even though it can get quite chaotic strolling around the main shopping centers or visiting the largest shrines on New Year’s day, it is still possible to experience a relaxing first day of the year in the plentiful smaller sites. Sometimes, to find the best locations, you just have to walk in the opposite direction from the crowds.