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