Shogatsu - New Years, Japan Style

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Shotgatsu - New Year's Day in Japan. We celebrated by going to Kashima Jingu shrine today. As we approached we could see it would crowded as there were a lot of cars illegally parked around its perimeter. We ended up parking several blocks away.

I thought it was busy last year when I posted "2006 Has Arrived - Ready Or Not", but it was no match for this year's crowds.

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A few other people had also decided to visit the shrine today.

There was a ten minute line just to get to the water fountain where one purifies oneself before entering the shrine. You take a laddle at the fountain, pour water over your left hand, then over your right, then fill your left hand and use the water to rinse your mouth. Rinse the laddle and you're done. Hopefully you remember to bring your "mini-towel" or handkerchief to dry your hands with. It was funny today to watch people who only visit the shrine once in a while. Some were reading and carefully following the directions which are displayed above the fountain, others just faked it. We saw some people drinking water directly from the laddles - a definite "no-no".

Inside the gate it was packed with people going to the Haiden to make an offering and pray or lining up to buy talismans and fortunes and other shrine items. You can compare these pics with those of last year's post as see the difference for yourself.

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After making an offering, K bought an "omikuji" - written oracle. We left the crowd and walked the path toward the inner shrine where we waiting in another line to make an offering there. Then we headed for Kanameishi.

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I wanted to make sure that the giant catfish that causes earthquakes was still being subdued.

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This statue is only a few years old. The actual Kanameishi is a little further down the path.

The kanameishi is a huge keystone which rests on the head of the giant catfish. Just the tip of the stone protrudes above ground level. Another kanameishi can be found at Katori Jingu in Chiba prefecture which is closely affiliated with Kashima Jingu.

The Kanameishi stone, still in place, protecting us from earthquakes.

From there, we were off to Mitarashi pond and spring where later this month, many people dressed only in a few pieces of cotton cloth will enter the frigid waters for the Misugi purification ceremony which you can read about HERE.

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K could not be coaxed into the water.

It was time to head back to the car. We took a side path to avoid the crowds at the entrance and most of the booths selling food, souvenirs, toys, etc., which line the main path and street leading to the shrine.

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This Okonomiyaki vendor had quite a line in front of his booth.

Okonomi means "whatever you like" and yaki means "grilled", so okonomiyaki is Japan's version of the slogan "have it your way". It starts with a kind of pancake made with flour and grated yam to which is added shredded cabbage and pork. You can choose additional ingredients which may include squid, pickled ginger, cheese, nori, veggies, and so on.

We passed on the food booths as we had plenty to eat waiting for us at home, including ozoni soup with mochi, and a host of osechi-ryori dishes - traditional Japanese new year foods - such as nimono, a simmered dish with gobo (burdock root), satoimo (taro), carrot, shiitake mushroom; kazunoko(herring roe); prawns; Date-maki(rolled sweet omelet); and a bunch of other stuff I forget the names of - variously prepared by K, her mother, and her sister.

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Tsubaki shrine near our house, the torii decorated for the new year with pine boughs and bamboo.

When we got home, we played with Momo and saw to it she got a long walk. Just after dark we grabbed a flashlight and walked down to our local shrine, Tsubaki (camelia). The shrine is small, half an acre or so, but covered in Japanese cedars and oak trees which makes it feel remote. At night it gets very dark inside. We left a small offering and returned home. So ended the first day of our new year.

2007 stretches before us all, full of challenges and promise. While we cannot control which way the wind blows, we can adjust our sails.

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu
Hau'oli Makahiki Hou
Happy New Year


The Moody Minstrel said...

Wow, what a rush of humanity! That's one of the reasons why my family always waits until the 2nd or 3rd to visit the shrine! (Another reason is the fact that I usually get roaring drunk at the neighborhood association's New Year Morning meeting/party. This year a stomach complaint prevented me from doing so, which is probably for the better...)

If you don't mind me blurting things out again, there is quite a story behind the Kanameishi.

As you said, it is believed to subdue a giant catfish spirit, thus preventing it from causing earthquakes. As one can see from the picture, it's just a tiny pimple of rock sticking up out of the ground.

Actually, the chief priest at Kashima Shrine told me that it is a remnant of the original shrine building, which is believed to have been constructed more than 2000 years ago. It is a great, stone pillar of undetermined size which was apparently driven deep into the ground to serve as the center of the shrine's foundation. (It makes sense that there is a similar keystone at Katori Shrine, since it was founded during the same era.)

It is said that Tokugawa Ieyasu, the shogun that took Kashima, Katori, and Ikisu shrines (the "Three Main Kanto Shrines") out of Buddhist control and made them purely Shinto again, ordered the keystone dug up. The workers apparently couldn't find the bottom, and a sudden earthquake encouraged them to stop trying. (Perhaps that's where the catfish spirit legend came from.)

All I know is that during my first four years here in Japan I was always unable to see the Kanameishi because the path was always blocked off and guarded for one reason or another. During the summer it was always wasps. During the winter it was always maintenance. At least that's what they said. When I finally got to go and see the thing, I really had to wonder what all the fuss was about...and what it was that the priests were trying so hard to keep me from seeing...


QUASAR9 said...

Hi Pandabonium, Happy New Year
may 2007 be filled with
Peace, Love, joy & much Happiness

Love the Stone!

Pandabonium said...

Moody - I was aware of the story of the guys trying to dig up the stone, but never heard that "inside scoop" of it having been part of a building at one time. Interesting.

We visited Katori Jingu in 2005. It is on a hill and quite beautiful as well. Their Kanameishi stone has a convex bump in the center, opposite the concave depression of the one in Kashima Jingu - as if they would fit together.

Currious they would close it off like that. Seismic catfish weapons research perhaps. Tinfoil hat <:P

Quasar9 - thanks and to you as well.

Reena said...

Happy New Year Panda and K.
Those first few pictures look like they were taken in India :)

loloma said...

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu to you as well and thanks for commenting on my blog. You have a very interesting blog yourself - have been reading it for a while now but, as usual, never found the time to leave a comment.

I am really impressed you survived the crowds. Last year I went to Narita-san and it was just like in your pictures, but this year I only went to a small shrine in Asakusa late in the afternoon. And I am still congratulating myself for that. ;)

k said...

According to the Kashima shrine website, Tokugawa Mitsukuni, one of the lord of Mito clan, ordered to dig up "Kaname-ishi", but after 7 days and 7 nights they still could not dig up the stone. Each morning they found the hole had filled up again and there were a lot of casualties in the process, so they had to stop.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Thank you, K-san! :-)

Anonymous said...

I swear to you, yours is becoming my fave site. I love to go on these trips with you and your family, as you manage, through your words and pictures, to take your readers with you. I am living vicariously through your travels.

Anonymous said...

On a trip to Japan I went to Kashima Shrine as well. 2 years ago in the Saitama Prefecture museum they had wonderful wood block prints of the catfish having parties. Drinking sake, and geisha dancing were supposed to placate the catfish so they wouldn’t make the earthquakes.


Pandabonium said...

Hill - so glad you're enjoying the pics. More to come...

Thanks for that comment Swinebread! I never heard that one. Wow, sake and dances sounds like more fun than a big rock.

"Swinebread" - is that the name of a band? :P

YD said...

awww... sweet way to spend new year! But I think I won't go into the freezing cold water if I were there too. would rather spend the whole year doing good deeds than purifying myself by going into that icy thing. ;-)

Anyway, HAPPY NEW YEAR 2007!!! May you all be happy and healthy always.

(now I know why catfish's head is flat)

Anonymous said...

Swinebread is my 'handle' don't have an acount yet

found a link that has some images about the catfish prints

Whole page


Pandabonium said...

YD - and to you too. I like going to Kashima Jingu, but frankly I don't care for crowds and don't stay long when conditions are like that.

Swinebread - just kidding about the name. Thanks so much for the link. That site has some really good ones. I'll post it so eveyone can check it out.

Martin J Frid said...

Happy New Year and thanks for the photos. This year I avoided the big shrines (went to Kawasaki Daishi on New Years Eve 2005 and spent 4-5 hours in the slow lane, and my New Years Wish was "Pls let me remember to avoid doing this again next year!)

Tinfoil hats => Funniest line so far in 2007

Pandabonium said...

Happy New Year, Martin. I guess everywhere is busy on the 1st, but I read that Kawasaki Daishi is one of the busiest temples.