It’s a sharp, cold morning down at the bay, 5 degrees and dark clouds hang low on the horizon, giving a ghostly feel to the pre-dawn.

I’m pleased to see one of the sun worshippers back – we’d all been worried about him and it turns out he had indeed been in a spot of bother, having fallen off his bike and broken a bone in his foot. He’s hobbling this morning but walking unaided, and seems to be in good spirits.

The fantasy land that is Universal Studios Japan was fun, but it feels good to be back on solid ground – still, steady and facing the sunrise – here in Minatomirai. Getting out of bed at 5am to catch it was a bit of a wrench this morning, but it was worth it. This little group of friends here offer me so much, and i’m so grateful to them for welcoming me into their community. Our conversation is limited due to my poor language skills, but the greetings and little gifts exchanged feed my spirit, align me with the day, I feel human again.

Yesterday, our leader (the man with the battery powered synth that plays the notes we all follow) presented me with a gift – a hand made CD, song lyrics, and notation – along with an invitation to attend a poetry recital on January 13th at 13:30hrs. I am so excited! I’ve started listening to the CD and it features such beautiful expressive singing, with scales that fill in all gaps our western meters miss. Typically, there is a diary clash I need to attend to – Taiga has a football tournament that day, but his tournament lasts for two days, so I’m hoping I can have my cake and eat it and go to both.

Whilst I was away the Christmas trees and other decorations in public areas have been packed away for another year and replaced with ‘Kadomatsu’ – bamboo and pine decorations that come in various sizes and are found outside shops and businesses across Japan to celebrate the New Year. The bamboo symbolizes prosperity; the pine, longevity; and, the plum branches and flowering kale represent constancy and fortune. The fortune bit seems significant – money is exchanged between family members on New Years Day in neat, note shaped envelopes – bills must be crisp, flat and new to avoid being impolite.

Taiga’s football team are on a winter break this week so we arranged our own practice session at the local Football court with 3 of his mates. Two of the boys are twins he knows from his school and the other lad (Daichi) from his football team. It was fascinating to observe this cross pollination of social groups and their interaction.

I’d arranged to meet the four of them in the local park, and we would walk down to the football court from there. As I approach the park I see Daichi standing apart from the trio of boys that already knew one another.

I run to greet them and feel their collective nerves at this new combination. I ask Taiga is everyone knows one another?

And then I’m taken aback by his response: he says something in Japanese to Daichi who immediately takes a step forward , hands by his side, bows his head and does this formal introduction thing, military style. I open my mouth to intervene and explain the formalities are not needed but Taiga gives me a look that suggests I should keep out of this, as the twin boys reciprocate.

I guess they learnt this little ceremony from their elders, teachers, or football coaches. Who knows. But the formalities are now settled and they seem ready to take a walk down to the football courts. As we walk they don’t talk much, and upon arrival we enter a lift that will take us up to the roof of ‘Asobuild’ which houses the astro-turf football courts. They’re clearly nervous and some whispering is going on – one twin stands close behind his brother in the lift, so close his face is touching the hair on the back of his twin’s head –  as if using his body as a shield against this new imposter from out of town.

Once we’re up on the roof on the green plastic turf, it feels important to find a bit of balance and I suggest a 2 x 2 tournament where the players switch teams before every match. I’m relieved when this suggestion is well received and the playing, shrieking and giggling begins. They’re all super competitive and in my role as ref I have to dish out a flurry of ‘yellow cards’ in a bid to keep things under control but inevitably there are crossed words, jilted feelings and tears before our 2 hour session on the courts is up. Thankfully nothing a shared bag of sweets on the way home doesn’t clear up, and strolling arm in arm they seem to have adopted the new boy Daichi into their gang.

Down at the bay this morning one of the Obaasan’s (?????) brought cakes, as it’s her birthday! So, so sweet. She gave me two, one for Taiga! And as I walk away from the park I can hear them singing “happy birthday” melody blending with the sea gulls cry and fading into the distance as I head back to the city. When I reach the cafe there’s a customer already ahead of me waiting at the door for the 7am opening time. We exchange a nod and stand together, hands in pockets waiting for the staff to open up, which they always do – bang on time. He rushes in to the warm environs, and I stand back to let him place his order first, but then I realise he needs a bit more time as his first priority is to clean the table, and the chair he plans to sit at. Now I’ve seen people doing this when they have a baby in tow, and when the cafe’s busy – but this is first thing in the morning, no one has used the table before him today. No judgement from me, just so fascinating to observe this behaviour and how different it is from what you’d see in the UK.

New Year is close now and it’s tempting to look back and take stock, and turn your head to the future and see what’s new. It can also be easy to look back in despair! But i’ll leave that to the person I was yesterday.

Wishing you a Happy New Year, wherever you are and however you choose to celebrate it. May you find some peace and tranquility at this emotionally turbulent time.

Dan x

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