I was born in the tri-state area, which means an early and firm indoctrination into hating all things Times Square. Still, I lived in Newark, New Jersey—so that meant I was always one jump over a turnstile away from loitering in New York City. As a youth, my friends and I spent a good chunk of our time browsing Times Square, mumbling about how much we hated being there. It sounds pathetic looking back at it now, but, hey, we were angsty teenagers.
Fast-forward to our 20s, and we’ve finally found one reason to love the tourist-crowded Disneyland in the heart of Manhattan. Once a year, and only once a year, we wake up early and meet at Times Square. Before the night’s internationally televised spectacle, while traffic is still making its way down Broadway, a crowd of maybe three dozen Japanese revelers gather to watch the ball drop … in the middle of the day. Performed for the benefit of Japanese New Yorkers and broadcasts in Japan, the scene is just like the countdown at midnight, only orders of magnitude smaller, and with the sun high in the sky. Everyone’s eyes are turned upwards, staring into the hypnotic glowing ball as it begins to drop. The giant LED screens count down, and everyone shouts along in both English and Japanese. It’s a little silly, but very fun.
There are usually some great costumes and traditional garb, everything from geishas to sumo wrestlers to dragons. Japanese journalists and camera operators pull people together to shout for the benefit of viewers. The crowd sets off noise-makers and blows whistles, never mind the fact that they get drowned out by the active traffic passing by. But the best part is not having to be shepherded and crammed into police barriers like at the midnight celebration. We avoid the tourists who come from all over the world to vomit in the street, but we still get to shout numbers at an electronic clock in Times Square. There’s also the strange satisfaction of feeling like you’ve already rung in the New Year many hours before anyone else.
None of my friends are Japanese, but that’s never mattered in a super diverse place like New York. It’s our silly tradition, but it brings us together in all the ways New Year’s is supposed to. And if the difference between a low-stress, slightly kooky celebration and a physically unbearable one is a few hours, I’m happy to be Japanese for 30 seconds every year.