written by Alvin (M1)

                   During early November, I felt both anxious and excited about the coming winter break or gChristmas breakh as we call it in my home country, Philippines. I felt anxious for fear that I might not be able to survive it. Itfs not because of the extremely cold temperature but it was my first time to be away from my family during Christmas day and New Yearfs Day.  Despite the anxiety, I tried to cope up by making most of the gyasumih days.

                   My dilemma started during Dec. 17, 2009, Saturday. I felt left behind with all my senior Filipino friends going back to the Philippines. I didnft want to go home since I still have some tasks to do for my program giving me limited time for vacation. I was lazily spending my day in the dormitory (Shofu Ryo, Aoba-ku) when I started to look outside my window at 4 of clock in the afternoon. The sun was about to set. I suddenly had the urge to go out in spite of the cold. I searched for best sunset views around Tokyo and luckily I found Minato Mirai, Yokohama. Ifve been meaning to go there but I didnft get the chance. I arrived at Minato Mirai station at around 5pm. I wasnft expecting that it would be this (refer to the photos I took) beautiful during sunset and evening. I realized alone time can be a great time to do anything I want without restrictions or whatsoever.

Minato Mirai ferris wheel and floating restaurants.
High-rise buildings view from ferris wheel (I rode this alone).

                   The next day, Dec. 18, 2009, without making any plans I was invited to show a new acquaintance around. I visited Meiji Shrine at Harajuko. From there, I went to Ueno and walked to Akihabara. Finally, I went to Tokyo Tower for the first time. One thing that made my winter break in Tokyo memorable were the colorful and radiant lights. Establishments really invest on these beautiful illuminations either to attract customers or to celebrate the season. I donft really know the real reason but I thank them for making my Christmas less nostalgic. Here are some of attractions:

Japanese Traditional Wedding at Harajuku

Light designs at Yokohama port

 Illumination at Korakuen

Giant Christmas Tree beneath Tokyo Tower

                   For the Japanese, Dec. 25 was not a day worth celebrating. In stead, aside from New Year, they celebrate the birthday of the Japanese Emperor, gTenno no Tanjobih event. I participated in the event with some international students from International Development Engineering. It was held inside Tokyo Imperial Palace which opens only twice a year, emperorfs birthday and ascension to his throne. We were welcomed by the emperor himself but unfortunately we didnft understand what he was saying. It was fun because I met a few Japanese who were very nice!

Group picture with two Japanese women and two kids.
(They were very kind)
Group picture with a Japanese guy who offered to take our picture.
We were inside the palace holding our own Japanese flags shouting, gBANZAI!h.
(Hefs at the right)

                   Finally, the main event, New Year! The day before New Year, I had to say gYoiotoshiyo!h which means something. And on the  New Year itself the greeting is, gAKEMASHITE OMETEDETOU GOZAIMASU KOTOSHIMO YOROSHIKU ONEGAISHIMASU!h. Itfs a long greeting but could be shortened to, gAKEOME KOTOYOROh. The greeting means happy new year and may you take care of me also this year (Ifm not sure).

                   Anyway, the night of Jan. 31, 2009, I went with some Filipino friends who were left to Shojoji Temple. It is located near Tokyo Tower. It was cold but there were lots of people in front of the temple, mostly, foreigners, looking for events on New Yearfs eve. Fortunately, at Shojoji Temple, there is a count-down celebration. As the time strikes midnight, everyone with balloons (distributed earlier in the evening which I failed to get since it was only limited to 3000 balloons) release their balloons with their wishes tied on the strings for the coming years. It was a very enjoyable evening. I was up all night just around Tokyo. At 4 in the morning, I went together with two Filipino friends and an Italian friend. We watched the sun rise just outside Takeshiba Sta. That whole evening I experienced new things like the New Year countdown and the sunrise welcoming.

The releasing of balloons c/o Kat Pampiona (upper left) and Shojoji Temple with the Tokyo Tower behind it on Jan. 1, 2009 (right) and sunrise picture (lower left).