Happy New Yearssssss

(Drawing on long-standing Laedlein tradition of bending deadlines, I’m gonna say this post isn’t officially late until Chinese New Year on Feb 10– so plenty of time! This is flagrantly cheating since the Japanese celebrate new years starting from Jan 1…)

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2013 brings in the year of the snake.  I don’t know the full meaning behind the zodiacs, but the snake is good news for business and lots of them are pictured curled around bags of gold coins like flightless dragons guarding their horde.

New Years in Japan is like Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one but the really fun stuff is family-oriented, so we stick to the one or two public celebrations.  These include fantastic light displays and hatsumode– or the first shrine visit of the year.

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Tara, Derek, and Alice approaching our local Hie shrine

Everyone dresses up and heads off to a shrine to make the first offering of the year.  This culminates a week of preparation, mostly in the home, for welcoming good luck. Traditionally, you clean like crazy sometime in the week before New Years and then decorate your doorway with New Year wreaths or stands generally including pine, rice, willow, and something colorful.  This welcomes the gods back to your house– but if you’re too late cleaning, my language teacher told me last week, the gods know you’re a mess and they’ll choose your neighbors instead. Ouch.

These little wooden tablets that you can write prayers or wishes on are available at the shrines all year round, but they pull out all the stops and offer dozens of zodiac themed cards for New Year. Here are some of my favorites from this year:



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Curled protectively around the God of Wealth’s hammer and surrounded by old coins

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Snakes with the characters for “inviting” and “good luck” (a term which I’m guessing from the coloring refers to more than just good luck at work…)

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And finally, my all time favorite for the year– this plucky little fellow is hauling an arrow, typically bought at the shrine every year to ward off bad spirits

Once we had bought a few placards (taking home for repurposing as Christmas ornaments) and paid our respects at the shrine (clapping extra loud and really whanging on the bells to get the gods attention) we got down to business– festival food!

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Fresh soba and grilled squid…. heaven

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