Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Japanese New Year

Alright folks, this one is coming a little late, sorry. After this I'll start posting in the present again, instead of the past :) But I couldn't NOT post about my one and only New Year's in Japan!! So I spent New Year's in Kyoto. After doing the zen garden stuff during the day, I went back to the hostel to freshen up, relax and most importantly warm up! The hostel was having a soba party for New Year's. Most Japanese eat this special kind of soba, called toshikoshi soba. Soba are buckwheat noodles and are popular year round, but are eaten at New Year's for a long life. On top of the noodles is daikon (Japanese radish), green onion and some sort of dried tempura flakes. Some put on a raw egg, but I ate mine without -- still took a picture of someone else's with egg!! I've eaten a lot of things raw in Japan, but I can't bring myself to do the egg!! So I had some soba and watched a little bit of a show that many Japanese watch on New Year's called kohaku uta gassen. It has popular singers and idols perform and most of the younger generation and families tune in. I suppose it's equivalent to watching Dick Clark and watching the ball drop in Times Square for Americans.

After that, I made my way to the hot spot of Kyoto on New Year's and in the center of Gion (the land of geishas). Many people put up their New Year's wishes at the shrine, so I decided to join in on the tradition and put up mine too!
At the year end, many things are burned at the shrines. Many people buy charms for the year for good fortune in business, driving, school exams, love, having babies, etc. At the end of the year they burn them. They were also selling some sort of sticks and people had written on them and they were burning them too...not exactly sure about what that is, but I would assume it has to do with leaving the old year behind. People also buy small pieces of rope and light them on fire and twirl it around to keep it lit. Tradition was that you would keep it lit until you got home and you would light your stove to cook the first New Year's food with it. Kinda cool, though I doubt many of the people doing it were using it for that reason!! Many people also get omikuji, or their fortune for the New Year. I got mine too. Sometimes they have the English translation, but this one didn't, so I have yet to know if I'm going to have a good or bad year according to the Buddhas. Might ask a Japanese friend one of these days....

They also had some sake they were pouring for people. Not sure on this tradition either, but people typically drink sake on New Year's, so apparently this was some special stuff from the shrine... (?). Anyway, I put in 10 yen and got one little sip of sake to end 2009. Got a cool souvenir bowl/plate type thing. It's not really a cup, it's flat...looks sorta like a jewelery dish I suppose.

People could start lining up at 11 pm and they definitely did!! Shortly after that, they stop letting people into the shrine area. There is a HUGE line of people to say their first New Year's prayer, a tradition in Japan. They had police all over to control the crowds and later when we left the shrine, I saw that the main road of Gion was blocked off to traffic and was shoulder to shoulder people and it went back for blocks. All the people were waiting to get into the shrine to pray for happiness and health in the new year. This picture below actually doesn't do it justice. This is inside the shrine, but the line that went out into the street was even more crowded if you can believe it.

At midnight, everyone began cheering, and people rushed up to the shrine to toss in money and say their prayer. I've seen many people do this at uncrowded shrines and it's much less chaotic :) Pretty cool to see though. Watch the video below:

I met a few other foreigners at the shrine around midnight, and they talked me into going out for awhile. We went to an English pub just down the street. We sat and talked til 3 in the morning when the bar closed. I sent lots of text messages home to wish people a Happy New Year and drifted off to sleep until the late hours of the morning (possibly early afternoon in true New Year's fashion).

Though it wasn't the funnest New Year's I've ever had, it was definitely one of the most interesting. It was cool to experience how a different culture approaches the new year. Some customs similar, and some different. My students write about it a lot in their essays, so I actually knew a lot about it before going, so it was cool to experience it and understand the customs and the reasons behind it.

I thought about watching the New Year's first sunrise (another Japanese custom), but I deciding sleeping was better since I wasn't going to get to watch it from a mountaintop or anything cool like that!!

I went to a temple the next day, and there were crowds and crowds of people again, waiting in line to say their prayers and get their fortunes. It seems I always visit Kyoto at the busiest times of the year, but it's interesting to have so many people bustling around such old and historic sights. I actually don't mind it.

So, to all, a Happy Year of the Tiger, which according to Wikipedia is roughly equivalent to Aquarius, so I'm gonna go all out here and say that it's my year :) Ready to take it on in 2010! Wish you all health, wealth, love and happiness in the new year!!

1 comment:

Ahles Family said...

that video reminds me of black friday outside target or something, haha.