Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year in Japan

In Japan New Year is celebrated quite differently than in the United States. It's by and large a family holiday, one that you spend time getting together with family members, eating special foods, and visiting a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple. Fireworks, ball drops, and late night drinking aren't common features of a Japanese New Years Eve, but the real action happens during the day on January 1st. 

Like I said it is customary to visit a shrine or temple on New Years Day with family. This is called hatsumode, or first shrine visit of the year. I was excited to take off on an adventure to take part in this tradition. There are numerous shrines all around you at any given time, so people pick a shrine to visit based on proximity or popularity. I chose to visit one of the most well known shrines in Kanazawa, Oyama Shrine. I knew it would be packed, but I was excited for a lively outing. 

Being a lovely day, I walked the mile and half to the landmark, enjoying fresh 2017 air and sunshine. When I arrived to the shrine, I surveyed the area, wrapped my head around what was going on, and stood around like a fly on the wall for a little bit. I knew it would be busy, but when I saw the line to enter the shrine I decided I would not wait in it. Then I though, wait, what else do I have to do? It's a beautiful day and this is all part of the experience!  So, I changed my mind and joined the football field length line. My prediction was the the line would take at least an hour to progress, but in reality it was more like 20 minutes. I took in the sights and sounds as I awaited my turn, with many others, to step up to the alter of the shrine, toss in my coin and make my first prayer or wish of the year. This involved two bows and two claps toward the alter after tossing in your coin of any value as an offering. 

I walked around the grounds of the shrine for nearly an hour longer, surveying all the festival style food vendors, which I was greatly looking forward to. Food vendors in Japan are a lot of fun and it's a great way for a foreigner like me to experience foods for a reasonable price. One staple that can always be found is taiyaki, which is a sweet treat made from waffle batter filled with sweetened red bean paste in the shape of a fish. I almost never turn one down when I find it! I enjoyed the warm, gooeyness of this treat. Next I selected a savory crepe-type concoction. I wasn't 100% sure what was contained in this, but I throughout enjoyed it. I could have continued eating, but my two selections provided an adequate lunch.

There were several small trinkets to be bought at this shrine in honor of the New Year. You can get a small paper fortune or one of the numerous small lucky charms meant to bring you luck in the new year. But, I had my eye on only one thing. A hamaya or arrow that I had known about for a while and was eager to get. I thought it would be an interesting souvenir to bring home. I ended up learning that it is mean to protect it's owner from evil. While I'm not superstitious, I rather just like the look of it. I also learned you area meant to bring it back the following year so it can be burned and you can get a new one the following year. 

I won't be burning mine as it is likely the only one I will ever own!