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Enter 2012: The Year of the Dragon

Happy New Year everyone! Even though I hit 2012 fifteen hours before you guys, I decided to wait to put this post up until we were all safely into 2012.

That is the New Year's card that my family sent out; (they send out New Year's cards instead of Christmas cards) and look who's on it! Yay! It has the names of everyone in the family with a sentence or two about what's going on in their lives (the card is only the size of a postcard, you see).

My little blurb on the bottom says: "An American who comes from Chicago. Will be leaving in February. Loves Japan and anime." (My host mom wrote it.)

On January 1st, at 12 a.m. my whole family walked to the local shrine. You might expect the shrine to be slightly empty, but no, the line we waited in stretched from the shrine down the 4 flights of stairs and well around the block.

Thankfully it wasn't that cold, so the 25 minute wait wasn't too bad. We got to the shrine, and tossed some change into the box. Then you bow twice, clap twice, make your prayer, and then bow once more. If you have bad feelings that you want to chase away, you can ring one of the bells that hang above the shrine.

The next morning, despite our late night, we all got up at 8:30 to eat breakfast with our grandmother, which was a bunch of traditional New Year's food.

I do not like most of it. I know the traditions stem from the time when there was no access to much food in the winter, so what they had in January was a lot of root vegetables, but I still don't like them. Once they've been steamed, I think they lost all taste and texture and become colorless lumps of mush. To be fair, this holds for most steamed veggies at home too; it's one of the reasons I don't eat the vegetables in soups.

After breakfast, we went and cleaned my host mother's father's grave and put fresh flowers in it. Then we took the train to my host father's parents' house, where we met up with his brother and nephews. We ate more food (I mostly ate the tuna sashimi. OMG. It was like BUTTER. IT MELTED IN MY MOUTH. It has easily been the best sashimi I've had my entire time here. I'm drooling just thinking about it.)

Then we played Wii games for...a very long time. Bowling, golf, SmashBros, WiiParty. It was a blast! And then all the kids got money from their parents. I got money from both sets of grandparents, my parents, and my uncle. I now have more money than I know what to do with. I feel like I should go shopping, but I don't know what to buy...

We stayed there until 9pm, upon which we went home and pretty much went straight to bed, since most of us were exhausted by this point. And my host parents had been drinking sake. That pretty much sums up how I spent my New Year's. But now it comes time to recall my favorite things of 2011:

Japanese Food:
That sushi I just ate yesterday. Or sushi in general. It's hard to beat good sushi, and where better to get good sushi than Japan?

Japanese Sweet:
I know I've said it before, but Pure gummy is just too addicting. Some of these will definitely be finding their way home in my suitcase.

Place in Japan (that I've been to):
Okinawa, most definitely. Partially because I've never been there before, but also because of the stunning views, culture, and food. I want to go back in the summer.

Japanese Kanji: It's a tie between the kanji for wolf, 狼 and the kanji for sword, 剣.

Absolutely no contest for this one. Epic movie of epic epicness. Couldn't be beaten. Side note: favorite HP character = Snape. I cried like a baby when he died, and I thought Alan Rickman played him to perfection.

Usually this is a difficult, if not impossible, question for me to answer. Not this year. Maggie Stiefvater is quite possibly my favorite author, and this year was great because she released two new books: Forever and The Scorpio Races. The Scorpio Races actually came out in October, but I didn't get to read it until December 24th. And I was absolutely blown away. Her writing style is lyrical and emotional and I got lost in it. The Scorpio Races is part magic, part realism, partly wild and untameable, part love, part strong heroine and all wonderful. If I have to recommend one book this year, this would be it.

An Toll Dubh (The Dungeon), by Runrig has an intoxiating beat that makes me put it on replay for hours at a time. I judge my favorite songs by how quickly I tire of them, and I have yet to tire of this one.

*Warning: Advertisement Ahead, but you'll get a good food recipe out of it:*
Post by Maggie Stiefvater on her Blog:
My Name is Maggie, I'm a Perfectionist and I Never Stop Editing

The reason is she has invented a recipe for November Cakes, which (since I haven't gotten to make them yet though I have big plans to as soon as I get home) looks like part muffin and part cinnamon roll, except instead of cinnamon there's orange and icing and fluffy goodness. I can't cook to save my life, but I can bake a pretty mean cake/cookie/brownie etc. so I can't wait to tackle these.

And that, unless people want to know other favorites of mine, concludes 2011. Cheers to 2012 everybody. Let's live it up, just in case the world DOES decide to end.


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