New Year’s in Japan is quiet, somber. The streets are emptied, even in the biggest cities. It’s celebrated internally, within homes and families. There is an elaborate menu to prepare and eat, with foods that serve as talismans. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, the bells at Buddhist temples toll 108 times, washing away all of our sins so we can begin sinning anew. Then begins all the grand firsts: first sunrise, first writing, first shrine visit.
In the past, we have tried to go the traditional route but no matter where I am, adopting others’ traditions rarely works for me and mine. We do make sure to have food to eat during the three days when all the shops will be closed (something we have not always remembered to do). We listen to the bells, though sometimes from our front step rather than at the temple (it is cold, after all…). And we always make sure to visit the shrine and pick up our hamaya, a decorated wooden arrow meant to ward off misfortune and attract good luck.
Except for last year. Last year the weather at New Year’s was miserable and we put the visit off until it was too late. Which I did not even realize until we were paying our respects to the kami-sama yesterday. I am not a very superstitious person but I think, considering how last year turned out, that skipping the first visit of the year is not an option. Hamaya translates as demon-breaking arrow and without it, the demons definitely reigned. While I will never relinquish the lessons I learned from battling those brazen demons that invaded our* past twelve months, I feel much better having my new glossy red arrow, hanging over my front door.
Happy New Year to all of you. 明けましておめでとうございます。今年もよろしくお願いします。
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/197712784″>Happy New Year's from the middle of the East China Sea</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/tiffanykey”>Tiffany Key</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
*Having seen the collective joy expressed about the end of 2016, I see that most of us were engaged in battle. To those of you who escaped the year without so much as a scratch, I am glad for you and yours. Truly. But for those of us who stumble out of 2016, bruised and scarred, I raise my fist in solidarity. Much love to you all.