The Year of the Dragon roared in to Japan hailed by a 7.0 earthquake. Somebody`s a drama queen. In spite of that auspicious entry, I think I speak for all Japan residents when I say we are happy to see the fluffy bobbed tail of 2011, the Year of Rabbit, hopping off in to the sunset.
SO- the New Year in Japan.
The Japanese are great adopters of best practices from other cultures including holidays, however, New Year`s feels authentic. Japan rings in the Year of the Dragon ahead of the other Asian countries not following the Gregorian calendar. Unlike our native country, the New Year celebration extends well beyond a midnight toast followed by a television marathon on January 1st.
On January 1, Tokyo rolls up the blinds, turns out the lights, and closes completely until January 3rd as the citizens living in the biggest city in the world celebrate customs started centuries ago. Nothing is open. Last year I contemplated stealing food from the neighbors to last until the grocery stores re-opened. I learned my lesson and stocked 5 days worth of food on Dec. 31st. Flashlights included. New Year`s is absolute in its power to close the city.
Kick started at midnight on Dec 31, thousands of Japanese visit a local shrine to pray for the upcoming year. Last year I realized exaactly how many people live in Japan as we all visited Meiji Shrine. Although cold, I was all toasty mashed in with 8,000 of my human blankets. This year I opted to let TokyoBlingBlog tell the story -See pictures here.
Midnight is marked by the ringing of the temple bell 108 times-one toll for 108 worldly desires. The Buddhists made a more exhaustive list than the mere 10 we Christians recognize.
Decorations particular to the New Year pop up like Dandelions. Kadomatsu park in pairs outside businesses. All have three bamboo rods representing Heaven, Humanity and Earth- each of different lengths and all must touch the ground. Pine, the symbol of long life, along with umi tree sprigs are often included. These become temporary homes to the kami, or spirits, of the harvest who bless the home or business owner with a good harvest.
The kadomatsu are burned at the conclusion of the New Year`s celebration to release the kami. Nothing like smoke to clear out the house.
Last year the Clampitts sampled the traditional New Year`s lunch- osechi ryori. The meal is contained in several boxes each stacked on the other. In the old days, New Year`s was the only time women got a full break from work. Samplings were made over several days by female members of the family and stored. Hence, the contents are dried, pickled or stay fresh for several days without refrigeration.
One of the traditional snacks ultimately leading to a Clampitt feeding frenzy is the rice crackers.
A peanut head with rice cracker body. Tastes like crunch soy sauce.
This was billed as a special New Year`s mochi dessert- kyani- with bitter orange topping.
Mochi is made from rice and has a chewy consistency which I prefer to eat surrounding ice cream. When I finally broke in to the package, it looked, and tasted, like wax. I have several more to crack before I declare an official position on the taste. Hopefully one of my Japanese friends will tell me if these are, in fact, edible.
All the children in Japan – and our nieces and nephews- look forward to these.
Otoshidama- money envelopes. In Japan, money exchanged for gifts or between people is usually done in an envelope and rarely are bills passed between individuals as it is considered rude. I`ll still take money with or without the envelope. Our nieces and nephews think these are more like cards to be given in a deck. Of course with money in all.
And finally, New Year`s is about “firsts.”
Hatsunode- the first sunrise. Mount Fuji looks like an ant hill during New Year`s as thousands of people climb to the summit to witness the first sunrise of the New Year.
Hatsumode- the first trip to the temple.
Even Hatsu-uri- the first shopping trip of the year. Hatsu-uri is particularly appealing therefore I plan on making it a part of the my New Year ritual.
I hope all of you have a wonderful and Happy New Year.