Wednesday, January 05, 2005


New Year’s Day is a time for prayers and wishes. We make a lot of decorations associated with good luck. My dad makes shimenawa (twisted straw rope with decorations like ferns and daidai orange) himself and place them here and there in house. I guess it can’t be just anywhere… there seem to be certain places that you expect the God of New Year to visit. Things related to water should always be included, according to dad, but my mom and I begged him not to put the shimenawa decoration on the kitchen faucet ; )

Small rock altar for the God of water right behind my parents' house

Some more photos of New Year's decorations are on my foodblog, if you're interested.

This is a small shrine near my parents’ house. We (my mom, my sister, her husband and kids and me) visited this shrine on the New Year’s Day at midnight for Hatsumode, the 1st visit to a shrine in a new year. People in this community (it used to be a small village before it was merged with other villages/towns) take turns to host Hatsumode at the shrine. The family who’s in charge needs to clean the shrine beforehand, prepare the altar, and stay there (maybe from around 11:00pm till 1:00 or 2:00am?) for the people who come for the Hatsumode.

It is not like the daytime-Hatsumode at big shrines with many visitors in beautiful Kimono. We go to bed after the Hatsumode, so there’s no use going through all those troubles to wear Kimono. It’s a plain, quiet custom here.

When we visit the shrine right after midnight, first we take off our shoes and go inside. Now I’m not sure (maybe no one is) what is the correct way… some families go straight to the altar, throw coins into a big box called saisen-bako and pray. Then they come back to a big bell with big ropes to ring it, and proceed to a big taiko drum and hit it hard. Others finish the bell and drum part first and then go to the altar to pray, and their rationale is that you need to let God know you’re there with the bell/drum before you pray. Hmmmm, makes sense.

After the prayer, we go to greet the host. They give us omiki (sake dedicated to God) and offer some sweets. BTW, never imagine that this old shrine is air-conditioned. It isn’t. It’s hard for the visitors but harder for the hosts who have to stay there for several hours just sitting on wooden floor. I guess they bring in small electric heater if it’s too cold.

For some reason, it seldom rains on New Year’s Eve. I can’t recall any year that my family went for Hatsumode in rain or we cancelled it because of the rain. So every year, after I get out of the shrine, I look up in the sky and see the stars. We can see more stars in the rural area and they are definitely shining brighter. As I look up in the sky there in the dark, with the shrine behind me and with the warmth in my stomach from the sake, somehow I feel closer to the heaven, the ocean and the earth. That makes me feel, “This is the beginning of a new year.”

... more to come later..
posted by obachan, 1/05/2005 11:30:00 AM


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