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Wednesday, January 3

Belatedly Ringing in the New Year

Arriving at home from our travels on the eve of New Years Eve, we walked in to our house to discover cold like cold has never been before. Solid matter in the house had amazingly frozen solid in our absence. Touch anything with your tongue would surely stick it to it for good. Not that I go around licking my furniture. But damn. It was cold. See, most Japanese homes do not have a little thing we call insulation. Ours is obviously no exception. Only seven hours of running the wall heaters on high improved the situation to any reasonable degree of temperature. In the wait, I retreated to bed in as many layers as I could pull out of the closet before my nose went entirely numb. Napping felt like it would be the only good course to pass the time and improve the health situation I was still in until the year end festivities started several hours later.

This being our first New Years Eve in Japan, we felt like we should do as the natives do. Forgetting the flu situation, we arose around 11:15 and bundled ourselves into yet a few more layers as our flesh now seemed to have begun its own freezing process. Traipsing onto the dark streets, we headed to the closest temple we knew of as we had heard it was the place to be in Japan on New Years.

Now I am not entirely sure what I was expecting but what was happening definitely wasn’t it. I’m sure festivities in Tokyo are more worldly (Read: drunken) but the town of Zushi simply is not party central.

Entering through the gates of the temple was a line that snaked around the tiny parking lot and poured back out onto the sidewalks outside of the gate. The people in the line... almost entirely silent. The head of the line ended at a tiny structure up several stairs that housed a large bell and a wooden post covered in red and white decorations. Each person quietly stepped up, rang the bell once with the wooden post which was then held before it swung back into the bell for a second ring as the person left back down the stairs. My understanding of the bell ringing is that Buddha taught that there are 108 attachments to our egos that we must rid ourselves of prior to the start of a New Year. Hence the bell is rung 108 times to symbolize the purging of these attachments. Quite a beautiful idea. I do have some confusion about this however as there were well over 108 people there to ring that bell. Do they cut them off? Or just keep going and ridding attachments on a basis of Round 2?

We stood and watched people go into the main temple, say their prayers, ring the bell and then leave for enough minutes that it was beginning to feel uncomfortable as the people stared at these obviously out of place gaijin (foreigners). Somewhere along the time that we stood like the obvious peeping toms we were being, we realized that it was past midnight. No grand displays. No hugs and kisses and shouts of excitement… just a hundred some people waiting quietly in a line to ring a bell. Realizing that this was all that there was to the ceremony (again, this is a small town so I am absolutely certain things are different in larger cities), we said our own quiet happy new years and started the short walk back towards our icy home.

On our way, we took note of the varied New Years decorations, some made of pine, bamboo, straw and even tangerines, that hung on front doors and gates throughout our neighborhood. Each has its own specific meaning but most are meant for some sort of good luck, longevity or good fortune. Our friend at Thanksgiving had brought us a New Years decoration for inside the house although I am not entirely certain what the meaning is. I am pretty sure she didn’t put a hex on us with its presentation or anything so we felt rather secure in displaying it. On our walk home, we also heard a short fireworks production but we couldn’t be certain of the direction it was coming from and neither of us had the energy to go hunting it.

Jet lag still playing its role, we quietly said good night with promises to celebrate American style the next day on home-Eastern-standard time.

New Years morning came and went and the flu had taken its death grip on me. I couldn’t move and only barely woke up for the planned glass of champagne (it took only the tiniest of sips to realize that champagne was not a wise idea at that present time) and to send some happy wishes to family back home over the Skype lines.

Tradition in my family requires a meal of pork and sauerkraut over mashed potatoes on New Years Day to bring good luck throughout the year. Some old German tradition from the maternal side of my family. In our house this year, I had forgotten to buy the kraut… or the pork… or the potatoes. As everything shuts down in Japan for about a week for the New Years holiday, being the biggest and most important of the year, we couldn’t get the supplies even if I could have gotten out of bed to make it. I spent the entire day in sleepy-drugged dazes and have no idea what poor Kimono Hubby ended up eating. I know he tried to force two pieces of toast into me which I fought with all the strength my pinkies could muster.

By the second of January, I was feeling much improved and even managed to get out of bed for the day… however, refusing to leave those same poor pj's that had molded onto me the past delirious days. KH made a quick trip to the base in the morning and got the last two lonely cans of sauerkraut on the shelves and the other needed supplies and rushed them home to me so I could prepare a meal before 2 pm. See 2 pm our time is midnight your time so we figured that as long as we ate the kraut and fixings before then, we were still in the clear for getting our yearly fix of good luck. Kind of like when you start drinking with breakfast and you figure its 5 o’clock somewhere. Oh… you’ve never done that?

So that is what one does when they want to have the best of both holiday worlds. Minus the whole flu death part. Many had never heard of the sauerkraut tradition. In the South, I hear it is all about collard greens. So what is your tradition? Maybe next year we can come over to your place and try it with you!

1 comment:

Heather Meadows said...

I'm just now getting caught up on your posts (again).

Yes, collard greens! I was introduced to that tradition last year while my husband and I were living with his parents. Collard greens and black-eyed peas.

Sean thinks collards are nasty, but I rather liked them.

Back home in Kentucky, we didn't have any New Year's meals, but in my family we did drink a glass of boiled custard topped with nutmeg and tell each other our resolutions.