I hurried back from the ghost town of Tokyo, standing shoulder to shoulder in the end car of a bullet train with other tired pilgrims. They were returning to their hometowns to celebrate the New Year with their families, to give the first prayer of the year at a shrine or temple near their ancestor's lands. In the first three days of the New Year, 88 million people, or 7 out of every 10 people in Japan, will visit a major shrine or temple.

I stood with them, but my thoughts were no doubt of a different nature. They were thinking about home and family, while I played with ideas on how to best record this once a year event, the one time of year when Japan seems turned upside down--the city of Tokyo is barren, while the countryside is filled with New Year's revellers.

Of course the only place to be in Yonezawa would be Uesugi Shrine, joining all the other visitors for the first prayers of the year.


*For the entire narrative, start with "Gunplay" and follow the links.

  *Start here*


Making Mochi


Free Sake


Getting Warm

Octopus Balls

Stuff on a Stick

First Prayers