The Year of the Cock


So what happens when two foreigners living in rural Japan decide to venture out of the countryside for a day???? Pure magic, that is what. Felling the heavy lull of winter blues and after a weekend away in a gorgeous ski resort, my best friend and I decided that we would venture out of our tiny city and go visit Yokohama. Specifically, we would go to Japan’s biggest Chinatown to celebrate the New Lunar Year, or Chinese New Year as it is commonly known.

From where we live it is about a two hour train ride to get to Yokohama, which is great for two friends who need to catch up on the week’s activities. We transferred trains right outside of Tokyo and treated ourselves to a shu cream, the Japanese version of a profiterole. I opted for the strawberry flavor and my friend opted for salted caramel. Energized by our delicious snacks, we continued our journey on the train getting more excited to be in civilization.

Living in rural Japan has it perks and has let me explore so much beauty and nature, but every once in a while I feel the need to submerge into the hustle and bustle of a city. Yokohama was just what the doctor ordered. It is the Japanese version of Los Angeles, and really made me feel at ease. It is a colorful port city with a variety of attractions, one of those of course being Chinatown.

As my friend and I walked through the gate into Chinatown, we were transported from everything we associate with living in Japan. The streets were crowded with people and the smell of delicious foods just danced in the air. I have visited many Chinatowns in my life, and I have to say that the one in Yokohama has to be the cleanest by far. But don’t worry, if you enjoy a little bit of grit you can still find it. And although I am a fan of some chaos and grit, the real reason for our New Year’s trip was food. And boy did we eat!

Walking into the gates I noticed the chestnut vendors right away. Asking my friend if she wanted any, I learned she had never had one before. So, I bought us a bag to snack on before lunch. The deliciousness of roasted chestnuts is hard to describe, it is a rich nutty flavor but much more meaty than walnuts, peanuts, or almonds. Eating our chestnuts, we walked trying to find the restaurant I had found online as a recommendation. Both my friend and I are vegetarians, which can sometimes be tricky living in Japan so I needed to do my homework.

We finally arrived at Peking Hanten, at the other end of Chinatown. They even had a vegan menu, which was quite a relief for two girls that constantly have to ask about menus. I know you must be thinking, two vegetarians in Chinatown??? What a waste! The duck, the pork siu mai, the meat buns! Well, I am here to tell you there is plenty of food for us vegetarians too. At lunch we feasted on Chinese eggplant, moo shu vegetables, steamed buns, followed by buns filled with bean paste. It was everything we had dreamed of. And all served to us by our lovely Chinese waitress who did not try hard to disguise her contempt for us. This oddly enough, made the food all the more delicious. It is rare for us to get genuine feelings out of people here in Japan and often deal with fake politeness.

After lunch, we continued our wanderings and eating tour. I bought some almond cookies followed by sesame balls. As we rounded a corner to make it to a tea shop that I love, something happened that has never happened to us in Japan. As a part of the Chinese New Year festivities, there are lion dances that take place to bring luck into the shops. This of course also brings a crowd of spectators. As we tried to maneuver past the crowd, we found ourselves in the middle of a stampede or what I would like to call a clusterfuck. People had built walls out of bodies started to push and shove, I swore I felt my spleen get a massage. We saw groups of friends be torn apart and carried by the wave of people. This is almost unheard of in Japan, the land of order and manners. In the middle of all the shock, I noticed I was kicking something that reminded me of a beach ball. As we were making our way out of the crowd I realized it was a souvenir from the very famous Cup of Noodle museum nearby. My friend and I went into a fit of hysteria. This lonely custom made bag of cup of noodle must have been lost by a child who could not hold on to it in the crowd, and so it ended up in the streets as our soccer ball. And for some reason, it made us laugh to no end. Most likely because the whole incident was so out of the ordinary and probably because a little chaos is good for the soul.

We finally sat down at the tea shop, enjoying a pot of tea as we relaxed after all the pushing and shoving. We talked about palm reading, and luck, and the future. It was Chinese New Year after all. And as we were finishing up, the lion dance came in and we got our own private show.

We slowly made our way out of the shop and out of Chinatown, got on the train back to Tokyo, where we ate a delicious Italian dinner. We laughed the entire time, enjoying our bit of city life before getting on a bus back to Kofu. Completely exhausted, I passed out before we even left Tokyo.

I had originally taken this mini-adventure to help usher in some good luck for this coming Year of the Rooster. I was tired of the trickster ways of the Year of the Monkey, as I think many of us were, and thought a little pilgrimage would do me good. I have been holding onto a lot of fear lately, and I wanted to do something to change that, even if only symbolically. What I didn’t expect was to realize that what I need in my life is more frivolity, more moments of pure absurdity, more laughter, and of course more food.

My best friend here in Japan and I are both in a time of flux and transition, and I think that is what made this adventure so necessary and healing. We did what we all should when we can, live in the moment. Although I am still hopeful that this New Year will be kinder to us than the last one, I will put my faith more into being present and being alive. I hope the Year of the Cock is good to you!


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