Our Life Photographed: 2016 New Year In Japan


It's become a tradition to go back to Japan for New Year. The food, the atmosphere, the company and even the cold weather makes it extra special. So even though every year we contemplate waiting it out and going back in summer instead, we always end up deciding otherwise. In Japanese culture, the new year meal is prepared on new years eve and that same menu (consisting of mostly cold dishes many of them sweet and others pickled) is eaten over the course of the next three days. The reason for that is to save moms the trouble of cooking during the holiday. Although, to be perfectly honest, it's in many ways a lot more trouble if you ask me. Each type of food, sweet, sour, different colors.. etc. symbolizes something. Something I could never remember because there are too many things in those beautiful fancy Japanese dishes. My job is to help prep and then devour. Now rewind to ten years ago, when I went to Japan to meet my parents-in-law for the very first time and had my first Japanese new year experience. The meal felt so foreign and repetitive to me. And then when the family sat down to watch the infamous new year marathon for those three days (you know which marathon I'm talking about if you know anything about Japanese new year) I felt a little left out and just... bored. Imagine me, still getting to know my in-laws, still trying to understand my new surroundings, everyone's habits and expectations, experiencing all these new traditions. That feels like a lifetime ago. Now, going home to Japan feels like just that, going home. I easily fell in love with my in-laws (evidenced by me crying everytime I say good-bye to them, they will attest to that. And I don't cry easily.) and now I feel like a part of the family. I know the routines now: I know that we all help clean the house right before new year. I open the fridge and take out all the familiar new year dishes to help my mother-in-law prep. I know where all the fancy new year plates and bowls are kept, how to unpack them, how to only wash them with a towel, how to stack those dishes and what to put in them, how to heat up the sake for my father-in-law. I know that we wear new clothes on new year day, to change out all the towels and floor mats for new year day. And now the sound of that marathon has become a familiar new year background in the house. My mother-in-law plays it on her little portable radio so she can hear the progress while she's busy in the kitchen, and the rest of the family sits in the living room and watches it on TV. It's the smell of new year food cooking, the smell of the incense we light to greet our ancestors and gods, the sound of the marathon playing on the radio and tv and nowadays the sound of our little dude running around the house playing with anyone and everyone who will play with him, that makes going home so wonderful. It makes us want to stay forever. It makes good-byes so heart-breaking and hard. 

This time around, we got to experience a once in a lifetime trip to Karuizawa thanks to my gracious parents-in-law. All because our son loves the hotsprings and when asked what he wanted to do in Japan by his grandparents, his answer was simple: "温泉行きたいい!" (I want to go to the hotsprings). 星のや (Hoshinoya) was by far the most beautiful hotels we've ever stayed at. The rooms are in cottages and it looks like a village floating amidst water. S loved seeing the ducks right outside our floor-to-ceiling windows (which I so badly want in our house just an FYI hehe) every morning and even named them with his dad. And ofcourse he went to bathe in the hot springs every single day we were there. Pictured above is S taking the "fun" path from our room to the hotel lobby. We told him if he falls in the water we'd just wave goodbye because it was so cold there hahaha He looked adorable in his little robe thingy the hotel provided. Words can't really do the place justice and maybe neither can our pictures, but you'll get an idea ;)

After eleven days of amazing food, meeting friends, hot springs, sledding, family time and ofcourse lots of shopping, we have returned. Since our return, we have welcomed our baby niece (first girl in the family!) into the world, picked up the other set of grandparents (my parents from Taiwan) from the airport AND celebrated someone's sixth birthday. But more on that later.

2016 is looking very very bright and happy so far and we can't wait to see what else is in store! Now if only the California sun would come back and stay for a while...

Happy New Year everyone!! :)

He slept in the closet most days because he wanted to be like Doraemon. I was glad because it gets really bright in the mornings and I hoped the closet darkness helped him sleep in.

... and they're off. The hill outside our house that S always has to run down.

train rides... a way of life in Japan. Also one of my favorite things about Japan.

New year morning which includes new year food, a visit to the shrine and a game of Karuta.

S's first shinkansen (bullet train) ride! 

In case you're wondering, you will never run out of bento options at the station. Never.

Our hotel lobby at Hoshinoya. Awesome-sauce!

Night view. Told you it's amazing! But the pictures on their brochure are better. lol

My boys in our room. I love them.

Friends and more friends. More temple visiting and good food galore!

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