By Aeris Golden-Thompson
This year I attended the annual 2020 Japanese New Year Festival Celebration, hosted by the Japan Commerce Association of Washington, DC. I attended this event last year as well, but this time was a little different, and a little more scary for me! This would be the first year I was going alone! I’m a very shy and nervous person by nature, and on top of that, going to an event where I’d only be speaking Japanese totally freaked me out!
I was running a little slow that morning, and after some makeup mishaps, I ended up getting a huge clump of mascara stuck under my eyelash that I just couldn’t get rid of without taking off my entire makeup look! So my vision was slightly impaired, as a black dot obscured the top left corner of my vision (;___;). I think the nerves got to me in my makeup application process. So much so that I was frazzled after leaving the house, only to realize I was a few minutes too slow, and missed my bus! I ended up just walking the two miles to the metro station closest to me because another bus wouldn’t come in my neighborhood for another hour!
Soon enough, I arrived at the festival, and found it was just like I remembered. I went over to what I thought was the ticket counter and handed them my ticket, but failed to say anything! What an embarrassment! After they tied the band around my wrist I mumbled out a quiet 「ありがとうございます。」、 And went into the festival!
At first, I noted that I couldn’t see very well, and put on my glasses to see better. It was just like I remembered! There’s a vendors row on the right when you walk in, filled with Japanese toys, snacks, and assortments of candy! On your left is the entrance to the games area, with karuta, a Japanese card game in which you have to listen to a speaker announce the first half of the poem and you have to find the card with the second half before your opponent, being the eye-catching attraction. In front of me was the shrine. It’s quite hard to miss, with the big red gates and all.
Now, I was waiting for my other classmates to arrive, hoping I didn’t have to explore the festival alone. My palms were sweating, and I ended up standing in a corner on my phone for a whopping total of: 20 minutes! I’m sure I stuck out like a sore thumb. The whole time my internal warning system was screaming at me to turn around and get out of there! I really felt like I might cry. The event is mainly for Japanese families, and everyone there seemed to know someone, even the people who weren’t Japanese came in a group of friends, and I felt so awkward for being alone.
Thankfully, Sato-san from the Japanese Embassy (who’s visited our class many times), came and talked with me, and that helped ease my nerves a lot! In the end, I gave in, and decided I’d enjoy the festival for myself, and take the chance to step out of my comfort zone. I made four goals for myself before I could leave the festival.
1st: I had to go buy food from the food stalls near the shrine.
2nd: I couldn’t leave the festival until at least an hour and a half passed.
3rd: I had to buy something from the vendors tables.
4th: I had to go get an omikuji (fortune slip; basically describes your luck and gives you advice to boost it) from the shrine.
I managed to complete all four!
First I went to get takoyaki, a fried ball of octopus topped with Japanese mayo and bonito (dried fish flakes), which by the way, was the best takoyaki I’ve Ever Had. Seriously, it was so good! All the tables were full, so I ended up sitting on the floor to eat it, next to a group of girls I didn’t know. This was hard for me, and I got really self conscious, thinking that people would judge me or stare at me for eating on the floor, but I focused on my food and kept going. Then I decided to get up and go get my fortune told!
I slowly walked into the shrine, and quietly waited in the short line to shake around the container. Once it was my turn, I shook the container too hard, and when I flipped it, two sticks dropped out! I could barely mumble out apologies as my brain was so frazzled and didn’t know which language to respond in! Thankfully, the girl handling the container was very understanding and handed me my fortune. Not to anyone’s surprise…. I received average luck. At this rate I might as well have received the worst luck ;o;! How many more times must I mess up at this festival, I thought exasperatedly, and moved to go buy something from the vendor’s table.
I ended up browsing the table for a while before selecting three Hello Kitty Marshmallow Chocolate Pies! I really liked that type of treat, as I’d had it before, and I also like Sanrio, so I was very excited to get them. Sanrio is a Japanese company that makes cute character merchandise! My favorite of the Sanrio character series is Little Twin Stars and My Melody! I opened one of the packages to eat, hoping it was Hello Kitty shaped; however it was just a normal circle pie. No problem, because pie is pie after all! It still tasted great!
I went on to go stroll around the festival a little more, and then I noticed the time, and left to go home, feeling very proud and accomplished. I made a lot of mistakes, but it was a good learning experience, and showed me that I need to start practicing speaking more, and be more outgoing. I really started to have fun after I broke out of my shell a little despite making mistakes. I want to go again next year! Hopefully not alone, but if I am, that’s okay too! 😀
I also wanted to do this blog in Japanese to help improve my ability to talk about the events I go to, if you would like to continue and read below!