Sunday, February 25, 2018

New Year, New You


I really had no intention of coming back to Chinatown anytime soon.  Although I really enjoyed the shengjianbao (Meen set me straight on their name), it's been getting warmer and besides, it's a little out of the way.  But that was before I realized that I needed to fill up my event hours for my course on multiculturalism and decided it would be interesting to compare and contrast Chinatown Chinese New Year with Shanghai (and Harbin's) celebrations.

I'd planned to go with Flower Boy and his partner for the actual New Year's Eve, but after fighting a headache all day I surrendered, messaging him that I wouldn't be able to make it.  Instead, I made my way down my nearest train line to Motomachi-Chukagai the following night.  Leaving the station I followed the signs for Chinatown, but when I got to street level I didn't recognize anything - this wasn't the way I'd come before.  I didn't have long to consider my options, though; when I heard the drums I knew I was going in the right direction.
I followed them down the street and found myself under one of the gates of Chinatown, at a corner where a rhythm section was laying down beats for a dancing blue lion.  The tang of gunpowder hung in the air.
The two dancers in the costume were moving through a restaurant, blessing the place with good luck for the New Year.  They moved between the tables, shaking their groove thang (aka, head) at the customers.  They finally emerged from the restaurant, bowed at the entrance, and then moved on to the next business, where their arrival was heralded by a barrage of firecrackers before the process began again.

After watching from beginning to end, I moved along to let others enjoy the spectacle.  I moved up the street and got reeled in by the promise of tasty treats.  I stopped for an order of four shengjianbao at the first vendor I came across...after my initial discovery last time, I realized how many actually were there.  I was told they would be ready in seven minutes, although I think it actually took a little longer before the bowl of piping hot dumplings was placed in my hands.  As I nibbled a hole in the wrapper and sucked out the soup I scalded my tongue, but they were too delicious to wait for.  I ate them walking down the  street, passing the blue lion again before finding a trash can outside a combini to dump my bowl and chopsticks in.

I realized then I was hearing drums both ahead of as well as behind me, so I followed them til I found a green lion, and eventually a yellow one, and a red one.  At some restaurants, the dancers stood on one another's shoulders to stretch the lion up onto his "back legs," when he would snatch an envelope and a bunch of lettuce being dangled out of a window on the second floor of the establishment. 
On the way to my last lion I passed a temple and faced a moment of indecision before concluding I would return after seeing the lion.  In truth, I'd been looking for it.  Temple visits are a traditional part of China's New Year festivities, and I'd actually managed to come across the one I hadn't seen before, Guan Di Miao temple. 

The temple was bathed in light, and incense wafted over the wall.  I climbed up to the entrance, and decided I wanted to burn some incense.  I've mentioned more than once that I'm the Mormon flavor of Christian, and I've also mentioned that I enjoy visiting places of worship of other faiths.  I'm sure this might come off as contradictory and possibly even blasphemous to some who read my blog; on the other hand, I think that the ability to learn about other faiths and try to understand their beliefs is inherent in my religion, no matter what other Christians do.  So I paid my five hundred yen and received 5 sticks of incense and a ticket for admission.  A temple worker lit my incense in a brazier and pointed out the order in which to place my offerings in the large, open vessels.  Inside the building itself there were four shrines, accepting prayers to the deities worshiped inside the temple.  I stared particularly long at the ceiling, which reminded me of one I used to admire at the Nelson-Atkins. 

After leaving the temple, I started moseying my way out of Chinatown.  I passed by bustling shops full of "Made in China" trinkets that were definitely not at authentic Chinese prices.  It was an interesting contrast with the New Year back in Shanghai, where you'd think the city was deserted if it wasn't for the fireworks exploding nonstop for two weeks.  Lots of shops and restaurants were closed, although admittedly it was a different story in places like Yuyuan Garden, where there were enough people to make up for the empty streets elsewhere.  Yokohama's Chinatown definitely had a different feel...as does this blog...it's possible most of the content I wrote for the reflection for my before realizing that it was much longer than I wanted it to be, hence a more scholarly approach to my writing.  Rest assured, next week I should be back to my standard foul language - Hina Matsuri is coming up and I've got some truth to speak along the lines of protecting children from misfortune.

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