A family gathering is one way to start off the year. But many people think it’s not the only way, including some who relaxed with friends early Jan. 3 in Odaiba-kaihin Park in Tokyo.Tomomi Kakutani, 25, spent the first few hours of the new year by her coveted motorbike with 10 other touring buddies. “We toured down to Choshi Kenbozaki to witness the sunrise. It was a moving experience,” she said as she took a break from another new year tour to the park.On New Year’s Day, Kyoko Otani, 19, visited Tokyo Disneyland with friends after having attended a wild countdown party. “We went crazy and had a lot of fun,” Otani said, adding that, unlike her boyfriend, she didn’t feel obliged to be with her family. She said her boyfriend reluctantly had started off his new year the traditional way.Others, like Hiroyuki Asano and Sachie Sakakibara, both 22, said they place priority on partners rather than families. They drove to Otake Beach in Ibaraki Prefecture to isolate themselves from the rest of the world and watch the year’s first sunrise together. “Family affairs can come later,” Asano said while having lunch with Sakakibara in the park.Yumi Kusakari said spending New Year’s Day with friends was not by choice, but by default. “I live in a dorm, so all I could do was watch TV with my dorm mates,” the 18-year-old high school student said. But Iwao Kuroikawa, 80, and his wife, Shizue, 65, insist they must go through the traditional routine in order to capture the “oshogatsu” (yearend) feeling. “On New Year’s Eve, we had noodles, and on New Year’s Day, we had ‘osechi’ (Japanese new year dishes) with our family. That’s how it should be.”

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