2006 Has Arrived - Ready Or Not

It was a quiet night in our house on New Years Eve, sort of. We ate the traditional meal of soba (buckwheat noodles) for dinner. The mochi rice was ready for 2006 too. Ironically, the Japanese New Years tradition of pounding steamed mochi rice with wooden mallets in a stone bowl is still carried on in Hawaii - a practice I have participated in many times on Maui at a friend's house or at the temple - but is rarely seen in Japan. Kitchen electronic mochi machines or simply pre-made store bought mochi cakes are the norm in 21st Century Japan.

Later in the evening, feeling the need for some music to mark the occasion, Pandabonium broke out his baritone horn. I downloaded some free sheet music on my laptop, and sat at the kitchen table to play "Auld Lang Syne". My fingerings for the baritone are not well practiced, so it took me several times through to play it correctly in one go. What a treat for the neighbors!

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Pandabonium On Baritone

Too bad it wasn't "euphonium" - it would sound so much more catchy to say 'Pandabonium on Euphonium'. The principal difference by the way is that a baritone uses cylindrical tubing that gives it a bright sound, whereas a euphonium has conical tubing and a more mellow sound. I wasn't keeping anyone up in any case. I retired long before midnight, and besides, the evidence at the Tsubake shrine just down the street showed there was some celebration going on there into the wee hours. In the morning there were large logs in the shrine's fire pit, still hot, chairs set around the pit and several large sake bottles lined up in a row - empty. On one corner of the shrine building, the Japanese Hinamaru flag was on display as well. I imagine some of the older neighbors had a night out drinking sake and singing songs around the fire.

Thus our little village rang in the new year.

In the morning, K and I went to Kashima Jingu, the large Shinto Shrine in town. It was packed with visitors who came to pray for love, money, health, and who knows what else in 2006. The usual stalls lined the entrance selling food, toys, and Daruma dolls, in a sort of odd, yet typically Japanese mix of the spiritual with the commercial. In the west, we eschew having commerce on the same site where worship takes place, yet do them both anyway. If I say "Christmas" some people think of religion and others think of shopping, or perhaps both. Somehow having them in separate venues makes westerners more comfortable. In Japan they are more integrated.

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Daruma Dolls - $2.50 to over $400

Anyway, "Daruma" is the Japanese translation of the Sanskrit word "Dharma", which in English means the teachings of the Buddha. The dolls are based on the legends surrounding the father of Zen Buddhism, an Indian sage, who lived in the 5th or 6th century, and is called Bodhidharma. He brought "Zen" to China, where it was known as Chan Buddhism. Later it came to Japan where it is got the name Zen. Bodhidharma is said to have sat in meditation for many years resulting in his arms and legs atrophying and falling away. He is also said to have cut off his eyelids to prevent himself from dozing off. This why the Daruma doll has no arms or legs or pupils. The doll is for good luck in perservering to attain one's goals.

When a person starts a new project, he/she draws a pupil on one eye of the doll. When the goal is reached, the other pupil is filled in to signify the achievement.

We stood in a crowd of people at the water fountain at the main gate to the shrine, waiting our turn to "cleanse" ourselves before entering the gate. Long handled ladles are provided for this purpose. One takes the ladle and pours water over the left hand, then with left hand pours a ladleful over the right hand. After that, water is poured into the left hand and brought to the mouth to cleanse it as well. It is helpful to carry a "mini-towel" in your pocket to dry off with.

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Inside, we made our way to the Honden (main building) to offer a prayer (more commonly to make a wish). It was crowded and an extra large collection box stretched across the entire entrance so that if you didn't get up to the front of the lines, you could throw coins into it and make your prayer. K then went to purchase a fortune paper, called Omikuji - literally "written oracle", while I went up the steps of the museum across from the Hondo to take a picture of the crowd. As she then went to buy an arrow - a symbol to frighten off evil during the year, I took some more pictures.

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A Family Tying Omikuji

When one gets an Omikuji it will have information for your future not unlike an astrological reading. Of course it can have good news and/or bad. If you don't like it, you can tie it to a tree at the shrine hope your luck will change for the better, perhaps coming back on another day to buy a new one. If it is good, you can tie the one you got last year to a tree and keep the new one. There are lots of visitors and to keep them from damaging trees, the shrines now days put up "trees" of string for people to use instead.

Another popular thing at shrines, especially at New Years, are called Ema. No, not Emma Peel of the 1960's series "The Avengers", but Ema as in the Japanese word for horse picture. Horses 'are important in Shinto as the gods ride horses. This is natural enough as Japans heros have historically been warriors on horseback. It was common in very ancient times for warriors to give living horses to shrines as gifts. The shrines had no use for them, as they were battle horses which could not be ridden easily not put to work as draught animals, so it was really kind of a bother for the priests.

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Emperor Suinin, eleventh Emperor of Japan who ruled over 2000 years ago, declared that except for very special circumstances, such as the winning of a major battle, no live horses were to be presented to shrines. Instead a wooden tablet with a picture of a horse on it was to be substituted. Now days, regardless of what is pictured on the tablets, they are called "ema". Often they have a Chinese zodiac symbol on them, this year a dog, as 2006 is a year of the dog. One buys the ema from the shrine, writes a wish on it, and hangs it on a board at the shrine. People wish/pray for everything from petty selfish wishes to the sublime, such as world peace.

Leaving the crowded area around the Honden, we walked down the main path to a large pen where deer are housed. Deer are also special animals in Japanese folklore, being seen as messengers to the gods. Kashima actually means deer island. At Kasuga Shrine in Nara Prefecture, a white deer is said to have arrived from Kashima Shrine as its divine messenger. It has become a symbol of the city of Nara.

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Kashima Means Deer Island

I've always felt a bit sorry for the deer in the pen, but this day it was looking pretty good, and with all the visitors they were getting their fill of sliced carrots. Next to this pen is a sign regarding a Buddhist temple which once rested on the shrine grounds and which was visited by Shinran Shonin in the 13th century. An intersting tale involving a mystery Pandabonium encountered and a discovery by the Moody Minstrel that solved it, but it will have to be the subject of another post.

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K On The Cedar Lined Path

Kashima Jingu is a big place, with over 160 acres of land and 800 different kinds of trees. We continued down the long path to the spring and carp pond (mitarahinoike). There is a purification ceremony here on January 22nd, during which people get into the cold water. Vendors were heating rice dumplings and ayu (a small river fish similar to trout) over charcoal. There is also a small restaurant by the pond and we enjoyed some hot ocha (green tea), a deep fried manju (cake with bean filling), and zenzai - sweet azuki beans with three shiratama - small rice flour dumplings. The old fashioned kerosene heater in the restaurant warmed us after the long walk in the cold air.

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Restaurant By The Spring

We made our way back to the car, stopping to pick up some dried apricots and dried tofu to snack on at home. People were still streaming into the shrine as we departed. We welcomed the new year, and hope it will be good to us in return.

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New Year Crowds

Once again, let me say "Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!" "Happy New Year" to all. 2006 is here, whether we're ready for it or not!


@ロウ 。LOW@ said...

Thanks for sharing that lovely new year outing with K. What a good and blessing way to start a year!

That ema and omikuji surely reminds me of Zojoji Temple, near Tokyo Tower. And Chinese believe it is the pupils that finally give "life" to a dragon in paintings, lion dance or dragon dance.

I know i am ready when 2006 is here. Let's hope for the best, for everyone!

YD said...

wow... that's a lot to take in. thanks for sharing!

from dragons to dogs to horses to deers... there sure are lots of animals involved.

Imagining Bodhidharma's arms and legs falling off and with eyes missing is a bit daunting, but the cute features of the doll compensate for that.

and the notion of the omikuji is fun - you can 'choose' the one you like? nice! hehe...

anyway, Happy New Year!
Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

The Moody Minstrel said...

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!
Honnenmo yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

I'm surprised we didn't see you there! Then again, we arrived in the early afternoon. We also cheated and came in through the rear entrance (since parking was both free and easy to find down there). We bought daruma at the stall you photographed and made our rounds of the shrines and talisman vendors, as usual. I always enjoy the 初詣(hatsumoude, first visit to a shrine for the New year).

Unlike the public schools, Seishin is locked up during the New Year holidays, so I couldn't go to work even if I wanted to. Life is SO hard! Whatever will I do with all this rest and relaxation???

Don Snabulus said...

I remember visiting Kashima shrine during New Year celebrations in the early 90s. It was pitch dark and we had a tiny light to get from our car to the festive area so we were all bunched up together.

It was great fun. I remember coaxing two of the kids in our group to turn to look at me then taking their picture with a flash camera. Everyone's eyes were burning and the kids eyes in the picture had no irises because they were attuned to the darkness.

That was a trip with many great memories. It would be fun to do it again some day with my family.

Don Snabulus said...

I forgot to mention that I was visiting Moody at the time.

Pandabonium said...

Thanks @low@

YD - surely the shrine doesn't mind if you get another Omikuji. The more you buy the more money for them. :-P

Ah, Moody, you reminded me that I neglected to put Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu in this post. We went in the morning to avoid the crowd - ha,ha,ha - fat chance. Enjoy time off!

Thanks Snabby. I hope you get to bring your family to Kashima someday.

Robin said...

Thanks for sharing this wonderful details on the Dharma doll and how the Japanese celebrate the New Year.

This is quite different from the Chinese culture who only celebrate the Lunar Chinese New Year (Jan 29, 2006), and do similiar practices (visiting temples and relatives)

Happy New Year and may all your hopes, dreams and fantasy come true in 2006.

Pandabonium said...

Thank you Robin and same to you. I'm looking forward to reading some posts about Chinese New Year celebrations later this month.

Happysurfer said...

Pandabonium, most enlightening account of the New Year celebration in Japan. Thank you for sharing.

The Omikuji is quite like the ones the Chinese have except that we don't get to discard the not-so-good ones. Good or bad, the 'prediction' applies for the rest of the year. Sometimes, the Omikuji reader is able to suggest a 'remedy'.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year.

Happysurfer said...

Btw, cool picture of 'Pandabonium on Baritone'.

Pandabonium said...

Thank you Happysurfer.

Well, there is always my personal remedy for a bad omikuji or astrological forecast: non belief. ;^)

FH2O said...

now that we have seen how the 'panda' looks like (he looks fine), perhaps we can have some sound bites of how he sounds like on the baritone ...?

thanks for that detailed account n best wishes for the New Year!

Pandabonium said...

FH2O, you know not what you are asking. Your new year will be happier for not having heard it.

All the best to you. Keep on paddling.

Happysurfer said...

Pandabonium, you're right. Luckily, not everyone goes to the temple to get one which means a good part of the people do not live life being governed by the Omikuji, the Chinese one that is.

The Moody Minstrel said...

When my family went to Kashima Shrine I was the only one that didn't buy an omikuji. My children each bought one, and both of them got really good results. My wife bought one, and it was the worst result. Not willing to let it go at that, she tied it to a tree and then bought another one at a different window. This time she got a good result, so she was satisfied.

If one's fortune can be so easily improved through commercialism, I think we're all in trouble. At any rate, Kashima Shrine still managed to sell 400 yen worth of omikuji to us even though I give it a miss. That still seems a pittance compared with the nearly 5000 yen we spent all together on talismans and good luck charms.

It's not hard to see how the shrine is able to replace its hammered cedar roofs every 20 years.

PusBoy said...

Ah, the baritone.

I'm a trombone man myself, although I haven't played in years and sold my trombone about a year ago.

Nice photo essay. Enlightening for the Westerners, as usual.

Pandabonium said...

Thanks for dropping by PusBoy.

Actually trombone is my main instrument. I picked up this little baritone a few years ago for a community concert band we were forming, as well as
"Tuba Christmas" concerts. Now just play it from time to time for fun.

Keep up the good work on your blog.

Tuba Lisa said...

Happy New Year to you,

I'm glad to see you're keeping some holiday traditions over there in Japan. The little baritone would have fit right in at our Tuba Christmas
this year. We had 15 players, and the sound was good.

The Community Band concerts were outstanding as well, with close to 40 musicians at each concert. Sonny is playing regularly again which is nice. There is also Dr. Ron on trombone, and he is doing a great job. We miss you though, especially during the Maui Brass Ensemble season.

Hope you have a wonderful year!