Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!!

2:50 AM JST

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu! My brother Jun and his wife Akemi just left with their sleepy dog Hina dressed in a hat and sweater for the 2 minute drive home from my mother’s house. 

Mama, Papa and I went to the local shrine together just after 12:00 AM to say our prayers.  It was not too cold but there were intermittent gusts of strong wind as we waited in the queue from the street and up the stone steps carved into the side of the mountain up to the shrine.  The shrine is a 2 minute walk from my mother’s front door so we were pretty much there and back home within a half hour.
I love going to the shrine on New Year’s – there was a beautiful full moon shining over us with a few dark rolling clouds and a sprinkling of stars.  Crisp, cold and really just the perfect setting for the New Year to begin.  After climbing the steps and getting to our turn in line, we offer a 100 yen coin in the coin box and then ring the bell before bowing and clapping our hands twice to say our prayers with bowed head. 

After that we move on to get either (or both) cold, clear, oaky daru (cask) sake and sweet, hot amazake as well as a sweet miso glazed skewer of konnyaku.  Across from the food and drink there is a raging bonfire that crackles and sends out beautiful fiery sparks dancing up through the air.  The small plaza is bustling with the local citizens, talking, laughing, drinking, eating and wishing each other blessings for the New Year as the  children play – and yes, text each other incessantly – while the adults socialize.

Mama and I chose to have the hot amazake and papa the daru sake.  Papa decided to go in sweatpants, a light jacket and no hat against Mama’s protests and as the one who is always catching a cold; he was already sniffling by the time we got home – the Gods clearly chiding his pride. 
Jun and Akemi decided not to go – Jun was fast asleep as much from our four hour eating and drinking binge as his hectic work schedule of the past week.  Kawaisou – poor devil just doesn’t get enough sleep!!  Akemi is Buddhist and generally only goes to the Oteara to say her prayers.  Mama’s family has always been Shinto and heavily involved in the religion so going to the shrines has always been paramount.
I love being in Japan for New Years and this is the first time Mama has had Jun and I together with her to share New Years Eve and New Years ever in her life so she is just delirious and beaming with happiness.
I love to see her smiling and happy – a priceless and indescribable feeling to put into words. 
We usually eat toshi-koshi soba or Year Ending noodles after returning from the shrine but everyone is so full tonight that we decided to have them in the morning at our leisure.
It is almost 2:00 AM JST so I am off to bed and am looking forward to writing out my nengajou – New Year’s cards – out over some hot green tea and undoubtedly another round of New Year food and sweets…

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