Slice of Life: Happy New Year!


12.31.2012 1.1.2013

IT’S NOW 2013!

This New Year’s was an incredibly different experience compared to the past 8 years or so. For one, it’s the first time in 7 years that I didn’t spend about 10 hours at work. We had no guests at our home, and we didn’t go to any parties and we didn’t have a midnight toast. As the clock changed over to the new year, we were in Kuniko’s car driving down a quiet street in Furukawa, about 25 minutes north of our town.

Around 10:15pm we got into the car and drove to Furukawa. We arrived a few minutes after 11pm and parked out front of Kuniko’s family house. Her parents, brother, sister-in-law, and twin nieces, were all still up, watching the special televised Japanese variety NYE show. Her mom insisted we sit down and have some tea and something to eat, which we did, and then the twins, who were 13 years old, came in to say ‘hello’ and were nice girls. We all took a few photos together, before it was time to head out to see how Japanese people traditionally ring in the new year.

Around 11:35, we bundled up and took off in Kuniko’s car for a few minutes, to the first stop, the largest temple in the area. Light snow flakes had just started to fall and it was very very quiet everywhere. On the same block as us, about 3 other people were walking toward us, maybe teenagers, chatting and giggling quietly, but sounding loud against the incredible silence surrounding us. We walked a few blocks through the empty and picturesque streets of the old town until we reached the temple. A light had just turned on at the large bell on the platform in the front yard of the temple grounds. There was a monk from the temple there along with his family and they were about to start the Jyoyanokane: ringing the temple bell 108 times. Kuniko told us that temple bells are rung 108 times, corresponding to the Buddhist concept of 108 worldly desires. There was no one else there besides the family and the 3 of us, but there are several temples in the area and we could hear a few other bells being rung in the distance. So you have a better idea of the sounds, it’s not like a little ‘ringing’ noise – it’s a big thick bell with a big wooden beam that is struck against the side, creating more of a booming bell sound than what I usually would think of as a bell ringing sound. We stuck around for about the first 12 bell rings before hopping back in the car and heading about another 5 minutes further down the road.

We parked and walked for about 10 minutes to the base of the mountainside. This was where everyone was – Along the street only 1 car passed by us, but we were surrounded by at least 50 other people heading the same way, all in groups of 2 or 4, mostly families from the looks of it. We were heading toward a large white Torii gate. After we passed the first Torii, we climbed up many wide stairs with many others until were were a little way up the mountainside, passing another Torii, and could see the shrine ahead of us.
Climbing the steps
[ above: Climbing the stairs up the mountain ]

Almost there

[above: shrine in Hida Furukawa, Japan, shortly after midnight on New Years Eve ]

People were washing their hands and mouth a little ways before the shrine, then heading up this path to the shrine. They throw some coins in the box [since today was busier, there was a larger space for throwing money into, instead of the usual small box], bow once, clap twice, make a wish or say a prayer, then bow again before exiting to the left. As far as I can tell, they consider making a wish & saying a prayer to be the same thing. After this large shrine, there is a small line to reach one of 2 much smaller shrines off the side. There is a smaller Torii gate leading to them. These are for business and studies, and the same process is repeated here. Along the little path away from these is a path with a line of a few more Torii gates. Then the route takes you through a little hut where there are charms for sale for good luck in various areas of life, and you can buy a fortune for the year ahead, and the Japanese equivalent of a giant fortune cookie.

That is all here…

How did you bring in the New Year?
What are your plans for the year ahead?