Happy belated New Year everyone!
Superman and I rarely make much of New Years Eve but since we were here in Japan we decided to join in the local tradition of heading to a shrine (that’s shrine as in Shinto, not temple as in Buddhist) for the turning of the year. Atsuta Jinja is one of the most sacred Shinto sites in Japan, where the goddess Amaterasu dwells in the form of an ancient sword and it also happens to be a 20 minute train ride from our house so, at about 10:30 that night we bundled ourselves up warmly (long coat, scarf, gloves, hat, double socks – the works!) and headed off. At our little station there wasn’t much of a buzz but when we switched to the Meijo line it was clear that we would have no issue finding where we were going we could just follow the crowd! As apathetic as we’d been told most Japanese were about this tradition it didn’t feel that way!
We got off the train at Jingu Nisshi station and emerged at ground level via exit 2, joining the crowds making their way along the outside of the temple grounds stopping to have something to eat from the now familiar red, yellow and white stalls of festival food lining the route. There were a lot more sweets this time, though, and (after we had finished inside) Sups had a chocolate dipped banana (which also came in blue and a rather suggestive pink chocolate dip) and I tried and fell I love with a new delicacy – toffee strawberries, like toffee apples but a lighter toffee and a perfectly ripe strawberry inside.
Upon entering the grounds we realised that our goal to get to the might be a little optimistic – the line was an enormous python of a people, filling the 8 metre-wide path to the Shrine itself and moving in ripples (of which Superman had a view and said it looked fantastic) every 15 minutes or so. So for about 40 minutes on New Years Eve the very green picture was my view! Nevertheless it was actually quite pleasant because it was both warm and their was a friendly camaraderie as everyone waited patiently and exchanged updates on the time with each other – even we foreigners. “Ni hon!!” a woman said excitedly to me, grinning madly. “Hai! Ni hon!” I agreed and we shared a giggle. As midnight arrived we had probably a full minute of scattered cheers and ripples of well-wishing as the variously set phones and watches determined when it was midnight!
Only a minute or so after midnight there was another ripple of movement and our group was let through to the shrine-proper – we had timed it perfectly!!
Once through the main gate we made a prayer and tossed a handful of coins at the temple steps and then joined more queues at stalls opposite the shrine building and purchased some omamori (or prayer amulets) for luck, health and drive as well as a New Year arrow to drive away any bad luck demons for the year. Apparently we should bring them back next New Year to have the old year’s luck burned and get some new ones. We didn’t join the Japanese in paying 200yen to shake a fortune scroll out of a hexagonal box (since we wouldn’t have been able to read it anyway) but it seemed to me that this was the most popular part of the whole night.
When we got home, we hung the omamori on the side of the stairs where we will pass it everyday (the amulet for my drive kept falling down – I’m trying not to read anything into it lol!) and we turned the Yule tree into a New Years tree by inserting the New Year Arrow into it – I think it works… kinda lol! Note the wooden tablet with the cow and calf on it – this relates to the next Chinese year being the Year of the Ox but in an oddly diluted way which confuses me – in Celtic animal lore the Bull and the Cow have very different symbolisms and I doubt it is different here. Nevertheless the whole concept is obviously contorted since everyone insists the animal year has changed despite the Chinese astrological year not changing till later next month. Just another thing to add to my list of things I don’t understand in Japan lol!
Apologies for the lack of quality and quantity of shots but I was shivering so much from the cold that most of my shots turned out too blurry to make out what they were (not to mention I hadn’t charged the camera so the IS turned itself off and the colour cast it picked up was mostly green lol) – these are the good ones! I hope that the new header photo makes up for it. believe it or not that was taken at high speed on the Shinkansen a couple of weekends ago on our way up to Tokyo for the afternoon – it’s quite view of the great mountain, don’t you think?
My best wishes to everyone for a happy, peaceful and satisfying 2009!