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I’ve been holding off on this one because it’s gonna be massive.  I’ll try to be brief. ^_^; Picking up where the previous post left off…

At the stroke of midnight, the crowd surged forward into the temple.  The young dude in front of us was taking pictures of the crowd and saying 「すげえ、これ!」(“this is incredible yo!”).  I guess even he was surprised by how feisty the people got. ^o^  It seemed to me like the cops were pushed out of the way! Their “shibaraku omachi kudasai” signs sunk into the crowd like the Titanic into the deep.  Well, just that faster and with less ice.

Somehow, we made it up the few steps to the temple’s main hall alive.  But once close to the altar, I felt the full pressure of hundreds of people pushing against me.  I honestly wondered if I’d be crushed to death!  I looked for Cassie in the crowd, spotted her, then took a few seconds to relish the sight of fistfuls of golden five-yen coins flying through the air before throwing mine in, clapping, and getting the hell outta there!

The Flying Five Yen Coins compete with Dazaifu Tenmangu's Flying Plum Tree for the title of Most Righteous!!!

That poor 飛び梅 (Flying Plum Tree)…I just can’t help myself. >o<;;;;

Oh, right, I said I’d be brief.  I’ll try to cut back on the jokes, since that’s not what you folks come here for.  Or is it? @_@?

Number 13 Excellent Luck! (Even though the top line is written horizontally, it's read from right to left.)

So anyway, I waited for Cassie to emerge from the throng.  Then, we went to get our fortunes.  I don’t know if this is only for New Year’s, but instead of a simple box that you draw an omikuji from, there were metal canisters filled with numbered sticks with a hole big enough only for one stick to fall out.  You shook the canister until a stick fell out, and took a fortune from the drawer with the number on the stick you got.  I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw that I drew number 13, but it turned it to be 大吉 (daikichi), Excellent Luck!

Then, we walked around all the 屋台 (yatai), or stands selling stuff.  There were yatai for yakisoba, fishes on sticks, yakitomorokoshi (fried corn-on-the-cob; this was the first thing I ate in 2010.  ^___^), choco-bananas, amazake, fried mochi, and tons of other stuff that I can’t remember.  There were also yatai for daruma dolls and various luck charms, such as the bamboo rakes that help you rake in fortune.

Ring those mortal desires away!

We were about to head back to the hotel, but on the way we passed by the place on the temple grounds where they were doing the 108 tolls of the bell for the New Year (除夜の鐘撞き, joya no kanetsuki).  They were on ring number 70-something when we got there.

Shortly before midnight, temples start ringing their bells. They ring them 108 times to symbolize the 108 mortal desires (according to Buddhism) and pray that these desires disappear.   I don’t know if at small temples where there aren’t as many visitors each ring is struck by a different person, but since there were tons of people here, they had prearranged who would do each ring, and announced each person’s name and what number toll they were going to ring.  It was funny to see some of the men who struck the bell so hard they almost lost their balance, but they were mighty satisfied with themselves. ^o^  There were three women in kimono and face make-up in a row who rang the bell; when they went up everyone took photos of them.  I don’t know if they were geisha or just women completely decked out in the traditional style.  The women’s ringing of the bell elicited as much applause as the men who tried to ensure all of Tokyo heard their ring.

We stuck around until the 108th ring, then the speeches by some important dudes.  After that, they threw the branches that were up around the bell stand into a fire in a pit.  It must’ve been around 3AM when we finally returned to the hotel.  We showered quickly and went to bed.

We got up around 11AM.  I packed up my stuff, since I would depart Tokyo at night.  We went back into the thick of Akihabara Electric Town in search of a maid keitai strap.  Several stores later and no luck!  We stopped for breakfast at a donburi place, then resumed the search. We went into Don Quixote, a store selling all sorts of stuff with lots of American products.  What the store has to do with Cervantes’ famous character is beyond me.  Anyway,  I picked up Caramel & Yakipurin (aka flan) flavored Kit-Kats and Japan Railways socks.  Yes, official Japan Railways socks! There were towels, boxers, and socks featuring the signage from Tokyo’s circular Yamanote Line.  I got Tokyo, Shibuya, and Ebisu.

Three pairs for 1000-en yo.

We popped into a game center; no luck, but we took silly purikura (short for “print club,” which in English makes little sense given that it’s actually a photobooth and you don’t have to join anything to use them).  Goofing off completed, we continued the search.  How could it be that there wasn’t a maid keitai strap in Akihabara?!  We went into some regular stores and some…stores where the only females besides us were plastic and had triple J boobs. (I’m estimating.) The guys buying these oddly proportioned figures didn’t bat an eye at our presence though.  One store had a notebook full of customers’ drawings and impressions.  It had a note saying, “feel free to leave your impressions after shopping.”  Since I didn’t buy anything I didn’t draw in it.  But…I wonder what kinds of things people wrote? I mean, it’s almost like asking people to write down their thoughts of the AV section. ^-^;

Anyway, lest I give the impression that all of Akihabara is crawling with hentai and its 3D brethern, I actually found a very nice V-neck sweater for just 1800-en in a jeans store.  I think it’s for men, but who can tell with a sweater like that?  Maybe because it’s bright magenta.  <tangent> A friend recently emailed me this fascinsating article where I learned that pink used to be for boys.  The logic was that pink comes from red, an aggressive color unsuited for the “delicate” female, who was better suited for calming blue.  Go fig. </tangent>

We gave up the search for the maid keitai strap, asked Cassie’s iPhone where Meiji Jinguu was, and set out.  As we looked for it, we passed by a huge, European style building.  I asked the policeman guarding it what it was.  He said it was the “geihinkan,” but since I didn’t know what that meant, I asked him if it was a government building, and he said yes.  Somehow I had failed to see the large Imperial Seal on the gate. ^_^; When I looked it up at home, I saw that 迎賓館 (geihinkan) meant the State Guesthouse.

The Gate of the State Guesthouse

I rather like this shot through one of the gate's rings. ^_^

We walked around some more, and the iPhone was saying we had reached Meiji Jinguu!  But there was nothing shrine-like in sight, and since I knew that “jinguu” was more important than just a “jinja” I knew it had to be something hard to miss.  As we stood around confused, considering going back to the hotel as it was 4PM by then and my bus left at 9PM, we noticed we were next to Meiji Jinguu Golf Course.  A little ways up was Meiji Jinguu Baseball Field. ?!!?!? The iPhone had led us to the wrong Meiji Jinguu!  Cassie looked it up again and found the actual shrine.  We decided to rest up in a café before catching a train to the right location.

"I'm too sexy for this rope, too sexy for this rope, so sexy it hurts."

(At this point in the post, WordPress’ editor decided it wanted to act stupid and put things in dumb places.  Moving photos around without deleting and reuploading everything has proven difficult, so I will just apologize for the poorly placed photos.)

At the train station, everyone was taking pictures.  When we got closer we saw what the commotion was.  There were advertisements for a New Year’s Special drama featuring super popular boy band ARASHI.  There was a large billboard, but also ads on pillars showing each of the guys shirtless with duct tape over their mouths and real rope wound around the bottom of the pillars!  The policemen were actually yelling at people who touched the ads! Luckily, they didn’t see me when I did, LOL.

Then we went to visit the deified Emperor Meiji. (Nice segue, no? >o<)

It was a long, winding, dusty trail through a forest to reach Meiji Jinguu’s main hall.  It was dusk, so the sense of light was beautiful, but again, without a tripod, I couldn’t really capture it.  And, since we were in a rush, knowing that there would be a large line, we couldn’t really stop to snap photos.  As with Sensouji, we waited an hour, slowly advancing towards the temple.  Since it had already been the New Year for a good 15 hours, people weren’t pushing.  Once we got in, we put in our 5 yen and looked at the crowd for a bit before moving on to the omamori stands and yatai.

The whole of this white tarp is for throwing the 5 yen on!

I got an omamori for studying. Yeah, even though I live so close to Dazaifu Tenmangu, which is one of the temples for the academically inclined,  but I figured it couldn’t hurt to have an Emperor on my side right?  No offense to Sugawara no Michizane. Anyway, Cassie got another fortune, but I figured I couldn’t top what I got at Sensouji and decided not to risk it. ^o^  We didn’t dally too much at the yatai since I had a bus to catch.

We went back to the hotel. I grabbed a nikuman from the attached conbini before heading to the room to pick up my stuff.  Oh yeah, I should mention this:  we had been a bit worried about having access to our money since we both bank with our regional bank rather than a large national bank like Sumitomo, and we’d been warned about this at Tokyo Orientation, but it was no problem.  The ATM at the conbini even had a calendar with the schedules the different banks would keep during the holiday season! (ATMs, like human employees, have days off in Japan, with the exception of some found in 24-hour conbini; but if you go to even those ATMs on a day when your particular bank has a holiday, you won’t be able to do anything.) I had taken enough money with me for the whole trip, but I took some out just in case, and vowed not to spend it.  (Hey, I came back with half of that just-in-case money! ^o^)  In short: you can file “you won’t have access to your money all over Japan if you bank at a regional bank!” under Things They’re Still Telling JETs Even Though They’re No Longer True.  Well, unless you bank at a super-duper inaka bank with only one branch I guess, but does such a bank exist?

But getting back to the story (:P), we headed to Shinjuku Station.  The bus ticket only said that the departure point was “Shinjuku Station West Exit.”  So we go to the West Exit, and there’s a bus terminal there, but…it seemed to be only for local buses.  To make a long story short, “Shinjuku Station West Exit” refers to several city blocks along which buses going all over Japan line up. x_X  Luckily we’d gotten there early, but it took us 30 minutes of walking around asking to figure out what the hell was going on and where I needed to catch my bus at.  It was a block over from where the bus coming into Tokyo had dropped us off.  There, a woman asked me, “Oh, you’re going to Hakata Station aren’t you?  The bus will be here soon.”  How she knew, I’ve no idea.  Maybe she’d been on the same bus as us coming from Fukuoka?  Or maybe she overheard me cursing Nishitetsu under my breath for not being more specific on their bus tickets when there’s no signage for them at the bus stops? ^o^;

So, I get on the bus and get cozy.  About 20 minutes later I realize I left my phone charger in the hotel room and text Cassie to see if she can bring it back with her when she gets back to Fukuoka.  It’s cool, she says, so I relax and try to watch the Japanese-dubbed American action movie, something with Jamie Foxx, but I couldn’t get into it so I played some Final Fantasy: Dissidia instead.

Fourteen hours later and I was back in Fukuoka.  Out of sheer exhaustion I was able to get some sleep on this bus trip, though not much.  I had two particularly funny moments of half-asleep disorientation.  First, probably from a combination of sleep deprivation and dehydration (my water had run out), I thought I was dead.  ^o^;;;;  It didn’t help that on these overnight buses, they have curtains to divide the rows at night; so there I was, sleepy and thirsty in my own dark curtained-off bus seat, I couldn’t feel the breath in my body, so I honestly thought I had died. I thought, no, I have to drink something…even if all I have is this energy drink which will prevent me from sleeping…so, I drank it. The Final Fantasy Elixir I’d bought in Akihabara. LOLOL

Yes, I thought I was dead and drank an Elixir to feel better.  Oh my god….>o<;;;;;;;;  There aren’t enough sweatdrops in the world.

The other funny thing that happened to my disoriented self was, open waking from sleep, I looked out the window and saw something white and something black beyond that.  Since I’d been trying to sleep, I didn’t have my glasses on.  I thought, Huh, why are we driving by a white sand beach?  Thinking the white stuff was sand and the black stuff beyond water.  I put my glasses on and looked out the window again and…realized I’d been looking at the side of one of the other Nishitetsu buses making the trek back to Fukuoka.

*Mega Super Ultra Facepalm + LOL*

Furthermore, I realized that we weren’t even moving.  We were in a parking lot making the first driver-only rest stop of the trip.^o^;;;;

Well, once Cassie got back in town, I went downtown to meet her and get my phone charger. We went to watch the Nodame Cantabile movie (it was great!) and ate at Canal City Hakata’s Ramen Stadium, an area full of ramen restaurants.  After that, we went our separate ways.  Soon as I got off the train back in my neighborhood I ran to the SoftBank store to pick up my phone (it had needed repairs right before I left for Tokyo, so I’d been using a substitute phone they’d given me) before the store closed.  I equipped my phone with the Kingdom Hearts chibi Sephiroth strap I’d bought at the Square-Enix Store a few days earlier and returned to my cozy old government housing. ^_^

~End of Tokyo Winter Break~ (’bout time right?!)