New Years is by far one of the coolest things I have seen in Japan. Japan is thought to be as very religious and very conservative….and well that’s true to some extent. As someone who grew up in the southern bible belt Japan is not religious…but in America we may say that the Japanese are more spiritual. And I am not talking about all of Japan, I am sure they have some christian churches or catholic ones, this is just from what I’ve seen.
There isn’t really “church” here. Where I grew up I have seen churches on every street and on every corner, but here I have yet to see a church. So people in Japan don’t go to bible study, or church every Sunday, or do revival or anything like that. And if and when they do go to the shine it isn’t every Sunday, they just go when they need to ask on one of their hundreds and thousands of gods for something. Like a boyfriend, or health, or money, or blessings for building a new house. So my ramblings about religion actually mean something, I promise.
In America New Years Eve is about going out club hopping with friends! Dressing up in your cutest dress and going out on the town with as many people as you can. And New Years day is for recovering from that night.
But in Japan New Years is for family and is considered the most spiritual time for Japanese people.
So around Christmas time people start putting out pine and bamboo decorations called kadomatsu. Many homes, and stores and shrines all have these. It is believed that the New Year’s gods come down from the spiritual to the earthly realm and it helps guide the gods to the house so you can have good luck and blessings in the New Year. And it is believed that the gods dwell in the kodomatsu until the 7th of January, after the 7th people take these to the shrine to be burnt and it releases the gods back to the spiritual realm.
Another thing that gets put out is Kagami Mochi. My teachers told me back then people would make the mochi, but now many people just buy it from the stores. but in kindergarten my students and some fathers who came to volunteer helped make kagami mochi for the school. Mochi is a food believed to contain the spirit of the gods. It is believed to be a homage to the god Amaterasu, or the god of the sun. So this represents light and renewal into the New Year. And the mikan or orange on top of it represents health and longevity.
So on New Years eve my friend and I went out drinking at a bar! We found a place called Jenny’s Bar near Parco Mall and they had all you can drink for $25! So we stayed for a while and watched the TV they had and played Jenga! The waiter here was also actually really cute, I regret not getting his name at least. He asked us a lot, like where were we from and such, the basics. We were actually like one of the only people in the bar. And when it was almost midnight they made is soba! And soba is eaten on New Years Eve to represent long life in the next years! It was vert nice of them.
So after this my friend and I headed to the castle, we wanted to catch people doing the first of the 5 Hatsu’s of the new Year.
5 発 of the New Year
初詣 (Hatsumode)ーFirst shrine visit
初日の出(Hatsuhinode)- First sunrise of the new year
初夢(Hatsuyume)- First dream of new year
初売り(Hatsuuri)- First sale bargain of new year
書き初め(Kazizome) – First calligraphy of new year
Its hard to tell but there was a LOOOOOOOONG line at the shrine of the castle. It was all the way out the gates of the castle . People start to get up from dinner, from the bars, from the restaurants and go to the shrine to say their first prayer of the New Year. I came for the food stands!
We only had time to got to one stand since it was almost midnight and the last tram home was at 12:11 so we had to like run to catch it. But we went back the next morning!
And the line was still SOOOOOOOOOOO long, people were even further out of the gates.
I wonder did people like camp out all night?! They probably didn’t wanna lose their spot in line. Even dogs wait in line to do the first prayer of the year.
And its the year of the rooster! So you could pick a rooster and get your fortune. My friend and I actually both got excellent fortunes and impressed a Japanese family beside us. They came up to us and talked to us about their fortunes and what they got. It was a very cool experience to have such a spiritual experience with not just my friend but with other Japanese people.
And again….I visited the food stalls! I finally got the oysters! I was so sad I couldn’t get them before, but I was happy they still had more. These are the famous Hiroshima Oysters from Miyajima island, they are so goooood. They taste better than any other oyster I’ve had before. And then I got some classic Yakitori!
It was such a cool thing to experience and be a part of. I really enjoyed my time in Hiroshima!