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Sunday, January 01, 2006

New Year's Eve at Toyokawa Inari Shrine Tokyo


I got together with a friend for New Year's Eve, eating nabe, nibbling snacks and drinking sherry while watching the perennial New Year Kohaku (lit. 'Red/White') marathon entertainment extravaganza on NHK TV that shows the whole of mainstream Japanese entertainment from the abysmal to the sublime, with more sequins and confetti than you've ever seen in your life.

The subway runs all night on New Year's Eve so at about 2am we braved tonight's zero degrees C (32 degrees F) caught the train to Akasaka-mitsuke station on the Marunouchi line and headed for Toyokawa Inari shrine.

'Inari' is the god of rice, and foxes are his/her(?) messengers. There are inari shrines everywhere, but this one happens to be the New Year shrine for the rich and famous of the entertainment world. It was lit with hundreds of red paper lanterns, and was thronged not only with supplicants, but with young female star spotters waiting for their idols to appear.

I brought my camera and would like to have shown you pictures of the rows of red lanterns, the various poses of the gray stone foxes that graced the grounds, from coyly elegant to sinuously stocky, the great offering box that stood in front of the shrine filled with notes and coins, the omikuji fortune slips that, if less than lucky, one ties to the branch of a tree before making one's way carefully home ... but, I found I'd left my SD card at home, so couldn't.

After paying our respects to the god of music, we shook a barrel of sticks, chose the numbered omikuji fortune slip that corresponded to the number of the stick that came out, and read them. My friend got 'Lucky'. I got 'Unlucky': warning me against aiming beyond what I was capable of and suggesting I keep my nose to the ground. Slightly sobered (literally!) I dutifully tied it to a tree, then we squeezed our way through the ranks of excited girls waiting for a glimpse of some flavor-of-the-moment boy, and crossed the road to the venerable Toraya ('Tiger') confectionery salon where we had a traditional sweet with thick green matcha tea.

Year of the dog. Toraya order chit showing this year's animal: the dog.

If only I could show you a shot of the sharp oblong block of delicately shaded translucent red and orange bean paste I ordered and the tea we were served afterwards with the cup in which was reflected the squares of gold leaf in the wooden saucer. There were not a few stars there, the nearest one to us being the stylishly pudding-bowled Kuroyanagi Tetsuko at the table just behind me.

We got the train back home at about 3.45am, amidst a carriageful of very quiet early morning commuters, more than a few of them seriously nodding off in anticipation of a long New Year's day in bed.

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