Monday, January 01, 2007



akemashite omedeto gozaimasu!

Happy New Year!

2007 (or Heisei 19) is the year of the Boar. This happens to be my sign; in the European zodiac, I am Cancer. I can't win either way--either a pig or crab or an abnormal growth of cells which tend to proliferate in an uncontrolled way . Hardly glamorous.

Here in Japan, the days of January 1st to 3rd are called shougatsu. January 1st is called gantan and is a national holiday. Shogatsu is the most important holiday in Japan. Everything shuts down from the 29th of December to the 3rd of January. People stay at home with their families, and eat and eat and eat! They may watch holiday TV programs or play cards or go or chess.

Tradtionally, a fancy bento (box meal) is served. This is called Osechi and is very pretty and very symbolic. It used to be the mommies and grandmommies spent the days running up to Shogatsu making Osechi (so they wouldn't have to cook during the three days) but now it is more popular to order Osechi ready-made. This means that the supermarkets are BUSY. Usually, I see Japanese shopping with one basket. When I went to the suupa a few days ago, not only was it a mad house at 9am on a Saturday morning, Japanese ladies were pulling TWO carts with two baskets each full of stuff. Some husbands had even been roped into helping.

It is traditional for Japanese people to visit to a shrine or a temple during New Year's Days. People pray for safety, health and good fortune, buy charms or blessings and drop off old charms or talismans to be burned by the priests. The first visit to a temple or shrine in a year is called hatsumoude. It is not a very religious event but rather a custom. Many well-known temples and shrines are extremely crowded. Not a good idea to go sightseeing at this time!

End-of-year gifts are exchanged (usually food items) as a way to say "Thanks for your kindness in the old year, please treat me well in the new." Everyone looks to the new year for a fresh start.

Many people put up a shimenawa and/or kadomatsu. We do, too! See (gimme a minute to link to my flickr pages)

This year, I managed to stay up until midnight. I was listening for the temple bell, as Buddhist temples toll their Okane (bell) 108 times at midnight, one ring for each of the 108 evils man must overcome. I thought I heard bells, but I also heard drums, whistles, cheering, drunking singing/hollering, canned music, dogs howling and maybe a firecracker or two. It was a beautiful, clear, cold and starry night, with Orion shining through the branches of the trees in my little yard. A nice image with which to begin The Year of the Boar.

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