Kotoshimo Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu!
Happy New Year to Everyone, with Wishes for Continued Friendship!
I think it is 2010 everywhere in the world now and if my fortune I received last night from a Shinto shrine near my apartment is correct, I am going to have an awesome year. At midnight, after saying my prayer at the shrine, I went with my friends and Jun to get our fortunes for the year. I ended up with 吉大 which means “big fortune.” On each fortune “card” there are several categories: about your wish, the person(s) you are waiting for, lost things, travel, buying & selling, studying、hopes, fights, love, pregnancy, sickness, and marriage. Overall, I had a really good fortune that I could keep it without tying it to one of the sacred trees at the shrine. My personal favorites on my fortune are “love: you are with the only person for you” and “study: just calm down and do it.” Guess that means I really need to get back on track studying for the 日本語能力試験・the Japanese Language Proficiency Exam.
I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s rewind back to the morning of the 31st. Jun and I woke up and finished the remaining cleaning we had. I was about to put some laundry outside to dry when I notice these small white specks falling from the sky: SNOW! It was pouring down snow despite it being sunny. The snow only lasted about 5 minutes, but it was exciting nonetheless. After connecting with my friends, we went shopping for ingredients to make nabe (kimchi). We then went back to the apartment where we talked and ate for a few hours. Around 11 pm we left the apartment and headed towards Kitain Shrine to do our 初詣・hatsumōde (the first trip to a shrine or temple). Many people visit a shrine after midnight on December 31 or sometime during the day on January 1. I thought about wearing one of my kimono to the shrine, but it was a little too cold for me to be willing to sacrifice comfort for fashion. By the time we got to the shrine, it was clear that we should have arrived earlier if we wanted to be at the front of the line.
The shrine was packed, so we kind of gave up on waiting in the long line and decided to get something warm to drink. We all drank something called 甘酒・amazake which is a traditional sweet, low-alcoholic Japanese drink made from fermented rice and is usually a little pink in color. Amazake is believed to be very nutritious, with no additives, preservatives, added sugars or salts. There is also a set of traditional food that Japanese people eat at New Years called osechi-ryōri (御節料理) that consists of boiled seaweed, fish cakes, mashed sweet potato with chestnut, simmered burdock root, and sweetened black soybeans. Many people also eat soba (buckwheat noodles) because it is supposed to be a sign of longevity. Another traditional New Years food, as well as a food to be eaten in January is mochi (rice cake) in a sweet red bean soup.
After eating and drinking, we head to a smaller section of the shrine and counted down to 2010 with a smaller crowd of people including the mayor of Kawagoe. At midnight, we all offered our first prayers of the year, received our fortunes, and bought some charms. I had always wanted to buy the wooden arrows called 破魔矢・hamaya they sell at New Years. These hamaya are talisman with magical protective powers, meaning both protective power and being on the mark/on target with ones goals for the New Year. Eto-Hamaya has the Ema (plaque) with yearly animal. The name translates to “Sacred Arrow” or “Demon Slaying Arrow” and, for those of you familar with the anime Inu Yasha, are what Kikyo, Kaede, and Kagome carry around constantly as aquiver full of Hamaya along with the traditional red Saigu-Yumi (literally Priestess Bow) is part of the religious accouterments of a Shinto priestess. These arrows are also what had Inu Yasha stuck to the tree.
According to the Encyclopedia of Shinto
Literally, “demon-breaking arrow,” a decorative arrow sold at shrines at New Year’s to ward off misfortune and to attract good luck. Hamaya are popular among New Year’s visitors to shrines as one type of good-luck charm or engimono. From the Edo to the early Meiji period, hamaya were given as gifts to celebrate the first New Year of a male baby’s life, frequently in a set together with a pair of decorative bows called hamayumi (“demon-breaking bows”). The custom of selling the arrow alone is thought to be a later abbreviation of this custom. Even today, the custom persists of standing such symbolic bows and arrows at the northeast and southwest corners of a new house (called kimon, the directions thought particularly susceptible to evil influences) on the occasion of the roof-raising ceremonies (jōtōsai). The etymological significance of hama is not clear, but it is said to have been an ancient word for an archery target or an archery contest. The practice of making round targets of braided bamboo or straw, or circles of wood, and throwing them into the air or rolling them on the ground as archery targets was a common children’s pastime, but it was also known as a form of New Year’s divination used to foretell the fortunes of the coming year (toshiura). When these elements are considered in the context of the current use of hamaya as New Year’s good-luck charms, one must consider that the current interpretation of hamaya and hamayumi as “demon-quelling” arrows and bows was rejected by the Edo-period scholar Ise Sadafumi, who asserted that the characters used to express hama were originally adopted merely for their sound, and that the word’s true meaning lay elsewhere.
After getting my arrow and talking to some of the shine’s staff, we then drank our first sake (Japanese alcohol) of the year with some men who ended up being city employees and even the mayor. They were all really nice and were excited and happy to see and try to translate (though Jun already had) our fortunes. My one friend had a really bad fortune (when it tells you to “just give up on love,” you know that you do not want to keep that fortune) so we waited for him to tie his to one of the sacred trees so that the spirits would ease some of the bad fortune. The mayor assured him that “we all make our own destiny” so he should not worry too much. The drinking of sake at this point in time is supposed to cleanse our body and soul so it is pure for the coming year.
After being social butterflies, we headed over to Jun and mine’s favorite cheap karaoke place for two hours of karaoke. By the time we were done, it was 3 am and we decided to call it a day and head back to the apartment. When I woke up, my first New Years postcards, 年賀状・nengajyō, of the year. Japanese have a custom of sending New nengajō to their friends and relatives. It is similar to the Western custom of sending Christmas cards. Their original purpose was to give your faraway friends and relatives tidings of yourself and your immediate family. In other words, this custom existed for people to tell others whom they did not often meet that they were alive and well. I have not really gotten into doing these myself, but I think I need to start doing it soon. Last year I received about 10 from friends, my host family, and some of the stores I often go to. This year I even received a card from Oguri Shun who is one of my favorite Japanese idols. Stationers sell preprinted cards. Most of these have the Chinese zodiac sign of the New Year as their design, or conventional greetings, or both. Many people make their own cards at home so they can include a family photo on them. This year is the year of the tiger, so there are a lot of Tigger postcards out there.
Celebrating the new year in Japan also means paying special attention to the first time something is done in the new year. Hatsuhinode (初日の出) is the first sunrise of the year. People who take this super seriously will drive to the coast or mountains (Mount Fuji is a popular location) to see the first sunrise. This year, I settled for watching the sun rise from the balcony of the apartment and the view was beautiful.
To wrap things up, here is a new(er) song from my favorite group Ikimonogakari entitled “YELL.” Hope you enjoy!
Hope everyone had a Happy New Year!