Saturday, February 13, 2010

Cross-Cultural New Year Get-Together 2010

Short note: I'm supposed to blog on this entry last month, but due to my hiatus for more than a month, I put it on hold. It is the Chinese New Year's eve today, so what will be your plan? Mine would be a buffet dinner among us tonight. That should be fun and great!
Just about a month ago, I attended an event organised by the Chikyu Hiroba of the Nagaoka International Affairs Center in the Nagaoka Civic Centre. They call it 世界の仲間とお正月 (Sekai-no Nakama-to Oshogatsu) in Japanese, but the translated version was "Cross-Cultural New Year Get-Together". Well, it wasn't exactly the best translation from them but anyway, the meaning is almost there.
Some decorations they put up to get the New Year mood.
Kagami mochi
(鏡餅), literally "mirror rice cake", is a traditional Japanese New Year decoration. It is usually consists of two round mochi (rice cakes), the smaller placed atop the larger, and a daidai (a Japanese bitter orange) with an attached leaf on top.
A miniature of kadomatsu (門松), literally "gate pine" on the right, which is a traditional Japanese decoration of the New Year placed in pairs in front of homes supposedly to welcome ancestral spirits or kami of the harvest. On the left is a small lion head as decoration.
This year marks my first time celebrating the New Year in Japan, as I have been back to Malaysia for the previous two winter breaks. Just in case to those who have no idea about this, the Japanese celebrate the New Year's Day on January 1 each year. It is considered by most Japanese to be one of the most important annual festivals, and has been celebrated for centuries with its own unique customs. I didn't get to visit any temples on the first day of the year, so I hope I will be able to do it next year. By the way, the first shrine visit of the New Year in Japan is called hatsumode (初詣).
Anyway, back to this New Year party, it was opened to all international residents in Nagaoka, as well as the local Japanese to participate in its mochi pounding and various games held. On my way there, I met up with Carine, my Penang junior in the bus and we both headed to the venue, Nagaoka Civic Center as soon as we reached the last stop.
There were more than fifty people on that day.
It started with an opening speech by the President of the Nagaoka International Affairs Center.
Preparation for the mochi pounding was ready.
Everyone started to take turns to pound the glutinous rice into mochi.
Meanwhile, I was at the other corner, chatting with a local Japanese lady who was there with her daughter. I was quite surprised that she started to talk to me first, because we all know most Japanese have that shy and reserved attitude, especially when dealing with alien like us.
I later found out that she lives in the vicinity of my college, just a few stones' throw away. We talked so long that I didn't have time to join the mochi pounding. No big deal though, because I have done it a lot of times.
After the mochi was ready, the staff put them into paper cups and added the toppings.
This time, they had sesame seeds (goma) and soybean flour (kinako) as the topping. The salty sesame topping was something new to me and it was really nice!

The locals and the foreigners sat together and chit chatted while enjoying the mochi and tea.
Everyone were later divided into groups because the next activity was to play some traditional Japanese New Year's game. But before that, they requested a representative from each country to talk in brief about the New Year's celebration in their respective country. They come from different countries around the world, including from China, South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Hawaii, and Nepal.
There were only two Malaysians there, Carine and me, and I was the one who went out to talk about the Chinese New Year.
The interviewer had to look up (pun intended) at me haha!
"Wait, wait, lemme recall that..."

One thing that I notice from the descriptions of the New Year celebration in other countries is the fact that they are similar to each other. On the days building up to the big day, people will be busy cleaning their houses, baking cookies and traditional cakes, and make sure that everything is ready to welcome the New Year. Most of them also have a gathering among family members and have a meal together, either on the eve or the New Year's Day itself. On the New Year's Day, they will usually visit temples or shrines, followed by the exchanging presents or monetary gifts like ang pao, for example.
The activity after that was to play a traditonal Japanese game, called 煎餅釣り (senbei-tsuri) or literally, fishing the Japanese cracker (called senbei) made of rice. Apparently, during the olden days, without much choices of entertainment outside, Japanese family will gather at home on the night of the New Year's eve to play this game. This game appeared in the anime Keroro Gunso as well, and here is the link. You gotta watch it to see how "smart" Keroro was when he played the game haha!
Before we were shown how this game is played, everyone, including most of the Japanese there were left wondering how to play this game.
All you need are pieces of ソース煎餅 (sauce senbei) and a long and thick needle with a thread. Sauce senbei is very much thinner than normal senbei, and it is given such name as we can spread tomato sauce or jam on top when eating it.
One of the staff showing everyone how to play the game. He claimed that he stayed up the whole night practising and polishing up his skills to make sure he got it right haha.

So, here is how the game is played.
Several pieces of senbei are pile up on each other; for beginners, the senbei can be made scattered apart from each other. From a distance of about 10-15 cm from the senbei, throw the needle towards the direction of the senbei until it pricked through the senbei. Then, slowly pull the thread up to see how many pieces of senbei you get. The person who got the most pieces is considered the winner.
Sounds very simple, but not until you try it yourself. Each of us were given three tries, but most of us failed on our first attempt. After seeing so many different ways of poking the senbei, we found out that the best way was by throwing the needle slanted from an angle, and not from right above the senbei.
This pak cik was damn good-lor! He got like three to four pieces in every attempt!
This Thai lady, who is married to a Japanese is not bad either. That was two pieces of senbei, I think.
This Chinese boy who tried to make sure that the needle remained stuck to the senbei when he pulled up the needle.
The top senbei fishermen of the day haha!
I only got four pieces of senbei in three attempts. But guess what? That pak cik on the right was super good! He got more than thirty pieces of senbei in just three attempts. Can you believe that? I'm not sure whether he got play cheat or not-lor. Who knows right, maybe he copied Keroro by sticking a magnet underneath the paper plate haha! Aiya, I'm so bad, lost already but still not satisfied, and only know how to accuse other people play cheat haha wtf!
Nevertheless, we had great fun during the game, as everyone was so anxious whenever someone was gonna throw and pull up their needle.
Mr Haga Tomonobu gave his closing speech right after that.
Babies everywhere lol! That on on the right is Manami-chan, who was still a little baby back in 2008.
Manami-chan was still busy chewing on her senbei, that she couldn't be bothered to pose for the camera haha!
Let me tell you a short tale. I was talking to that five-year-old girl on the right while playing to some sumo games with her. She first thought that I was a Japanese, but I later told her I'm from Malaysia. Not surprising to hear that she has no idea what is Malaysia. So I made it simpler; I said I am a foreigner or gaijin (外人), and asked her if she knows what does gaijin mean.
Her reply was, 「知ってるけど、どんな人が分からないの」("I know, but I dunno what kind of people gaijin is") haha wtf!


Kae Vin said...

yay I m first to comment~

and the senbei game sounds fun. Your so clumsy can get four ady considered not bad. XD Brush up your hand-eye coordination la. :P

and now you misled the little girl. She will grow up thinking all gaijin are 190cm-tall monster XD

calvin said...

@ kae vin:
lol, this is not weh!

what clumsy me? am i that bad lol! my eyes are perfectly fine okay?! xD

yea, i also thought like that. the next time she saw another gaijin, she must be thinking why is this gaijin so dwarf one haha!

fufu said...

senbei game? hohoho i didnt know it but anyway xin nian kuai le... gong xi fa cai and happy valentine's day :)

p.s. : i miss mochi tsuki!!!

calvin said...

@ fufu:
yup, i have never heard of this game too until i attended this event. fun game it was ;)

happy chinese new year and valentine's day to you too!