The Christmas Tree Lighting

Have you put up your Christmas tree already (if you celebrate Christmas)?
I graduated from a Methodist university and every year they have a Christmas tree lighting ceremony on the Friday before Advent starts, which is usually the last Friday of November. It’s been a tradition since 1977 and all the students from kindergarten to post graduates are invited to attend, as well as parents, faculty, and alumni.
I loved this program when I was at the university. I mean how often do you get to stand in a crowd of Japanese people holding a candle and sing Christmas hymns with the choir outside? This rarely happens in Japan. We aren’t exactly in the land of Christmas caroling (although I’ve done that before, too). So I always embraced this opportunity to feel the Christmas spirit on campus.
Even the students who aren’t Christians (and most aren’t) are there to see the Christmas tree light up and you can feel the anticipation in the air throughout the whole program. A representative of each school (kindergarten, elementary, etc.) pushes a button to turn the lights on and each time a portion of the tree lights up, everyone gasps and claps. It’s kind of funny because this happens seven times until the whole tree is lit (we have a lot of schools crammed into this small campus) but sometimes you just can’t help yourself. It really is breathtaking!
This year I had a whim to go and I’m so glad I went. The regular candles had changed to penlight candles (much safer since everyone is holding a paper program) and the president of the university had changed, but the atmosphere of the program was still the same. I loved singing with everyone to Silent Night and Joy to the World. The older man standing next to us actually had a very lovely baritone voice. It was the perfect way to feel the Christmas spirit in a traditional way.
Hope you’re having a wonderful start to the Christmas season, too! x

The Bonenkai Season in Japan

Bonenkai season is upon us here in Japan.
I mentioned before that Bonenkai (忘年会) is the year-end gathering of co-workers and/or friends. If you look in a Japanese dictionary the word Bonenkai means a gathering at the end of the year to forget the troubles of the year. That’s kind of dramatic but I think it’s a way of patting ourselves on the back and saying Otsukaresama for getting through another year. And we do this by eating, drinking, and being merry together.
The tradition of Bonenkai dates back to as early as Kamakura (1185-1333) or Muromachi period (1336-1573), although back then it was more of a quiet gathering of poem readings. It’s during the Edo period (1603-1868) that Bonenkai became popular among the common folk as a time to drink and party together.   
Do you know the story of Chushingura (忠臣蔵)? (Ru tells the story beautifully here!) It’s one of my favorite kabuki plays and it a famous story of revenge based on a real story here in Japan.
You might wonder what that has to do with Bonenkai. Well, you know how the 47 ronin invaded the Kira fortress on December 14, 1702. It’s said that the reason they were able to invade and finish the job so swiftly is because everyone was still hungover from the Kira household Bonenkai the night before! Quite the story, right?
I never realized the history of Bonenkai in Japan was so long and even interesting. The tradition has been evolving over the years from large-scale company Bonenkais in the 70s to the private and lavish Bonenkais during the late 80s bubble economy years. Then the small-scale affair with close friends and coworkers after the economic bubble burst, which is kind of how it is now (although not as gloomy as the 90s, I’m sure). Good thing for me because I don’t think I could survive a company Bonenkai in the 70s (when sexual harassment was still not in our vocabulary). I like our small-scale ones with close friends and coworkers 😀
And in keeping with the season, I thought I’d introduce you to a really great traditional Japanese izakaya in Yoyogi. You have to make reservations because they are pretty popular but they have delicious food and even better umeshu! Yum yum!
Have a wonderful Bonenkai season everyone! x

1-34-5 Yoyogi
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
東京都渋谷区代々木1-34-5
03-3374-4024
Everyday: 6:00pm-11:00pm

The Wedding Party in Ebisu

Last month my friends E and M had their wedding party in Ebisu!
They had gotten married with close family and friends in Hawai’i the month before and wanted to have a party with their friends in Tokyo. I was asked to help co-plan the wedding party with another friend Y, which I was really excited about. I didn’t learn until later that it would include taking on the role of co-master of ceremonies as well.
After 30+ years, I’ve come to know myself pretty well and one of the things is that I do better behind the scenes. Supporting is my thing, not center stage. I have huge stage fright and because I’m rarely in that position, I freeze up even more when I’m there.
Needless to say, I was slightly concerned about having to talk into the mike. And not only that, but you need to be on top of things, reading the crowd, checking the time, and making sure that the bride and groom are having a great time. (Did I mention I am also a worrier?)
But in the end, it all worked out.
The bride and groom were full of smiles, which is exactly what we wanted. Our plan to surprise them with messages from their parents were also a success. Everything went according to plan and it was great seeing them having a good time celebrating their marriage with all their friends in Tokyo!
Wishing E and M all the joy and happiness of this day and always. x
The bride and groom making their entrance.

I have no idea who took these photos on my camera…but whoever did, thank you!
E’s friend gave a poetic toast to the newlyweds.                        My co-MC was amazing.                

Friends surrounding the happy couple.
My flower arrangement for the bride and groom table, which I only had 15 minutes to do (eek!).

It felt good seeing everyone having a good time conversing with the bride and groom.
Who knew those high school ikebana classes would come in handy one day?

A piece of their cake waiting to be eaten, which they did after the party was over.
Like all good parties, it was over before we knew it. x

The Avenue of Ginkgo Trees With Friends

I was looking forward to this weekend because my favorite family from Kobe were in town!
I love that my friends have a chance to come to Tokyo every so often so we can catch up face to face. Letters and emails are great. But nothing beats seeing your friends in person. Especially when they have the sweetest little boy with them. Little A was still a baby the last time I saw him but now he’s walking around and even more handsome!   
We stopped by the famous avenue of ginkgo trees at Meiji Jingu Gaien (明治神宮外苑の銀杏並木). These trees were placed here in 1923 and there are a total of 146 trees aligning the 300 meter avenue. The ginkgo trees are unbelievably tall, some even growing as tall as 28 meters. It’s quite an amazing view.
It was peak season for the gorgeous yellow ginkgo leaves. There were tons of people there but thankfully V and D didn’t seem to mind too much. We took a walk down one side of the avenue and came back up the street on the other side. There are ginkgo trees on both sides of the sidewalk, which seemed even brighter than just being under the blue sky. It was really beautiful and I couldn’t stop taking pictures.
Little A and I bonded over a ginkgo leaf when I twirled it between my fingers. He kept on holding it out to me, which I took to mean “do it again!” He was very shy before but we actually took a little walk together at dinner time. I think we are definitely chums now 😀
We spent the rest of the day just chatting away, which is what happens when you only see each other every half year. I simply adore this family and can’t wait until the next time I see them! x
Here are some very yellow photos of the ginkgo trees: