Seven hours and counting
So 2003 is crawling closer, kind of like a flying cockroach that hasn't yet screwed up its courage to take that first leap. Yet again I'm in a net cafe defined by one of the more useful though sadly less colorful four-letter words in the English language, that word being "free." It's free to sit and type and lean back in the plush naugahyde couches, if you're lucky to get a couch seat instead of a trendily uncomfortable blond-wood and aluminum chair. Now that I think about it, and the Japanese obsession with comfort, not that I'm complaining, mind you, the couch is more likely to be leather rather than the hide of some poor deceased Nauga. So today was spent biking around my new digs, which include a Gelato shop (didn't try it - yet,) a new and used English bookstore that accepts trades - so it'll be easy for me to get my literary fix - called Good Day Books (closed for the holiday), an American comic book store in nearby Shibuya (don't have the cash to buy anything) and a ramen shop in Ebisu. Now, there are probably dozens of ramen shops in Ebisu. "The Japanese are obsessed with ramen," said a Japanese-American friend who was in town to visit her family for the holidays and generously spared a couple hours for me. This particular shop was not particularly expensive and had a good 20 minute wait for a seat, even at two in the afternoon. My friend claims it's nationally-renowned, and after inhaling one of their humongous noodle bowls topped with mouth-meltingly marinated pork and bamboo shoots, and half a plate of gyoza - fried dumplings, I'm inclined to agree. Ramen is extremely popular around New Year's because the long noodles are supposed to be good luck for the long year ahead. Something like that. If traditions always taste this good, I'm hard-pressed to disagree. Another New Year's tradition in Japan is to watch the sunrise on January 1. I'll talk about how it actually was tomorrow, but I've pulled enough all-nighters, from both my school days and drinking nights, to know that for those few seconds when the sun peeks over the horizon, before it blinds you but just as it sprinkles enough light around to give even the shadows a tinge of yellow-gold, that this is another tradition that's worth carrying home. Many people head out to Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, to watch the sunrise over the beach. Although the trains run all night long, it's a shlep and a half, so I'll be watching the first sunrise from a hilltop in Harajuku. With much insight, my friend pointed out that although Harajuku is ground zero for teenage counter-culture in Tokyo, without fail the freaks and the geeks are squished in with everyone else to see that first dawn. I'll let you know how it goes.