Happy New Year from Japan!

It has been a while since I posted, but the last few weeks have been really busy. Every trip to Japan always presents new opportunities and challenges, which can’t be covered every time in a timely manner. In this post I want to share a few impressions of how the Japanese greet the new year.

The New Year’s Eve dinner is not something that a Westerner would be too ecstatic about. The traditional meal includes soba noodles – a type of noodle that is grey in colour and served with some light sauce and just as light amount of vegetables. As a person used to consider noodles a real meal only when they are served with pork and rich sauce, the soba l0oks way too zen to me.

Another staple of the Japanese New Year’s Eve cuisine is “mochi” – hardened rice paste, which could be roasted or boiled. Regardless of the method of preparation, eating it is a challenge. No matter how hard and patiently you chew it, mochi feels like chewing gum and it takes quite a while to digest it. Older people in Japan have been known to choke on mochi. Thank God for sushi and sashimi that can make that day’s meal enjoyable.

After the Japanese meet the New Year, they go to the local Buddhist shrine. That can happen the same night or most often the next day, January 1. We went to two shrines in the afternoon of the New Year’s Day. Here are a few pictures from the walk.

Unlike Toronto, with its winter that doesn’t recognize the “global warming,” the winters in the southern part of Japan have always been mild. That’s why you won’t see snow. First we went to a smaller shrine nearby:

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The shrine entrance

The first thing you see when you enter is the place where people leave last year’s charms and plates – they must be discarded and burned by the temple people so that the visitors get new ones for the coming year.

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Burning the last year’s luck

At the main shrine building there is a large box, where you throw your donation of coins, then clap three times and bow as the part of the ritual.

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The prayer

At many shrines they have some unusual worship objects (usually animals). This shrine had a horse – don’t ask me why it was there.

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The mysterious horse

The next shrine in the town was much bigger and older.

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A common sight at any shrine are the temple workers (mostly girls) who sell the new tablets, plates and amulets that are supposed to bring luck in the new year.

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The temple shop

There were many more people at this shrine.

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An important part of the shrine is the big gold-plated sacred box, which is carried every year at the town’s annual festival. It has been built in the early 1800’s and has been carefully maintained and renovated as needed. It is is kept in a separate building of the shrine.

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Very zen charms

An unfortunate consequence of the modernization of Japan is that the traditions gradually fade away. While they are still preserved in the food and many of the customs, they are mostly gone from the the way the Japanese dress. The once ubiquitous kimono is harder and harder to see even on major occasions. The only person I spotted on this New Year’s Day wearing a kimono, was an adorable little girl and I am not sure if she was that excited to see only herself in the traditional Japanese outfit.

 

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The little kimono girl

Japanese love pets and it is always nice to see cats or dogs in most places. Another visitor of the shrine wasn’t shy to show that she was very friendly to a stranger like me.

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Yes, it was a great day.

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