My Sky High New Year's
Every year end I do the same thing on the 29th or 30th of December. I say I won’t do it and still I get talked into it.
I look at myself in the mirror. I check my tie and make sure my shirt is pulled tight. No one knows this but I do a John Major - I tuck my shirt into my underwear so it stays tucked in. I will be required to jump up from my seat several times each hour and when someone asks for assistance lifting or taking something down, I am supposed to assist. Nothing looks worse than a uniform shirt poking out between trousers and vest like a hard boiled egg leaking out of a cracked shell. Flight attendants have a rough enough deal, the 4 point seat belts we wrangle with is a pain and looking like a slob doesn’t help.
I screw on my nicest smile and make sure the seat belts are crossed over so the flap is under and the buckle is over. We don’t have to do that, but it is the little touches (the magazines are all stacked carefully and in the same order in the seat pockets) that let passengers know we take care of the small things so it will all go well.
My crew mate/seatmate on this flight isn’t my favorite person. I can deal with that. We will both be really busy as it’s a full flight. We are both doing a “holiday schedule.” I lean over to her and say, “thank you for working with me today.” I smile and she is caught off guard. The rest of the flight I am rewarded with her absolutely nicest person.
One of us is in the galley and we set up the drinks before take off. The other in our cabin will be responsible for “the deck.” Jackets will be hung up in the closet, bags up overhead and everyone seated quickly so we can do a fast beverage service before we pull back. Holidays always mean a delay of some sort and usually it is baggage and cargo so we make everyone comfortable. We smile and wish everyone a happy holiday. I can extend holiday greetings in 15 languages.
I look at it this way: wherever I am going, this is going to have to be my party. I grin and bear it. I am not married and I have no children so the pressure for me to spend time with family members during the holidays isn't as troublesome. I have done 4 out of the 5 New Year's Eve shifts and my boss knows that the year I ask for the time off it will be the year they give it. It is non-negotiable and in writing that they will give me the wild card should I need it. Until then I am everyone's favorite single trolley lad.
We arrive at our destination and there are two options. We either turn back and return empty or we pick up another plane load. Once I remember we were pushed off onto a Northwest flight and flew back dead head because the plane was being sent in for an overhaul. When some passengers asked us what happened to our plane someone on the crew said “Santa borrowed it for an emergency toy delivery; the sleigh was too small.”
New Year’s for me is never going out for a party. I work then. I might catch the festivities the night after or maybe the night before at a bar or two I like to frequent. That’s it. Most of my friends are out of Tokyo. They go to their in-laws in far-flung parts of Honshu or they take off for Thailand. Sometimes they end up on my flights. That can be fun.
In all likelihood, I will miss the countdown. Sometimes we have done them on the flight with streamers and champagne. I drank apple juice. My thoughts head towards land to the Ferris Wheel counting down to midnight in Yokohama harbor with fireworks or the lights from Disney in Chiba. I suppose Roppongi is crowded at the crossing and Shibuya is packed at Hachiko corner for the countdown. I will leave that for the younger crowds who like to stand out in the cold. "Happy New Year!"
Once I get settled back in Tokyo I can go off to The Meiji Shrine and do my coin toss of 5 yen for good luck and make a quick prayer. If the weather is cool enough there are ice sculptures to the approach of the shrine precincts. I will go and secure my future fortune by buying a turn at the joss sticks and taking the appropriate number.
I will walk through Omote Sando after dark and maybe, just maybe, the illumination is still up from Christmas. Sometimes it is and sometimes the locals demand it be taken down. Trash and crowds have pissed off many of the local residents and who can blame them when the local stall owners leave their trash behind and thoughtless consumers allow their trash to fall by the wayside?
I might go to a department store sale which is customary at New Year's. I like going and buying the Japanese aprons with the elastic gathered sleeves for my mother. What started off as a joke gift has turned into a ritual. My father gets a quilted jacket to go over his pajamas. Mom gets her kapoggi and Dad gets his hanten. They get mailed off the first week of January.
Years ago (and I mean decades ago) when I was in college, everything closed for a week. There was nothing open and nothing to do. You stayed and suffered in Tokyo - a boring plight. Meals were exclusively set menus of astronomical price or you went to MacDonald’s, Wendy's, First Kitchen, Morinaga or DomDom and compared french fries among the fast food chains. The first day of business, banks reopened with kimono-clad women and the department stores did the same through New Years.
If my tree is up, I usually take it down on the 5th of January. My German mother would have the tree down by the 28th of December. I have a tree of Russian ornaments (my town has a sister city in Russia) and if the spirit moves me I will have it up on the 5th of December and keep it up until the 5th of January from St. Nicolas day to Epiphany.
The end of my New Year's is when I make what I lovingly call my 'fake gaijin New Year’s meal' for my best friend when he returns from his hometown. I make an assortment of small foods and set them on plates and arrange them as the uninitiated might be fooled into thinking of as a Japanese mode of serving. It isn’t. It is how I celebrate my New Year’s which isn’t really New Year's with someone who waits until after New Year's to celebrate with me.
New Year festivities is what you make of it.
Incense or senko are lit. I don't light incense. Joss sticks are shaken or rolled from a dispenser to give a number much like bingo hoppers.