Whereas people in Denmark spend the days following New Year's eve recovering from hangovers and cleaning up detonated fireworks, people in Japan make good use of their precious few days of vacation preparing and eating special New Year's food and, perhaps more importantly, going to "Hatsumode".
Hatsumode is another one of those Japanese words that requires a full sentence when translated into English, and means something like "first temple visit of the New Year". Since my friend from Hong Kong was visiting Japan and I for once didn't have to work, taking part in this seemed like a good way to spend a Sunday evening. During hatsumode, Japanese crowd together at the many temples scattered across Japan to pray for good luck and draw "o-mikuji", which is sort of like a lottery that tells you what kind of fortune the new year will bring you. This is hugely popular and people were forming long lines to get a premature glimpse of the coming 12 months. However, having your future decided by picking a random piece of paper from a big box reminded me too much of the Danish army's draft, so I decided not to participate. I guess I will find out how everything turns out in due time anyway.
The temple we went to is located in the part of Tokyo called Asakusa and is one of the bigger and more famous temples in Japan. Since we arrived a bit late and it was already the 2nd day of the New Year it was not as crowded as we had feared, and we had no trouble reaching the main building. Once we got there we realized that none of us could really remember what we had to do, but eventually resorted to just copying whatever "the natives" were doing (bowing, clapping etc).
I may be a little late with my New Year's greeting, but anyway I hope there's an o-mikuji with good fortune for 2005 written upon it waiting for you all, Happy New Year!