Sunday, December 30, 2007

New Year's Eve

My absolute favorite part of New Year's Eve is called joya no kane. It takes place at midnight in Buddhist temples all over Japan, a kind of ringing in the New Year. Or more correctly, a ringing out of the 108 sins of mankind.

We go to a temple up on a hill near our house at about eleven thirty. It's peaceful, cold, and very, very dark. But we're bundled up and have flashlights. We survive the short hike from the parking lot to the main temple to find that the monks have built fires in barrels to keep everyone warm and I suppose provide a little light.

This picture was taken two years ago. J and a barrel fire. They feed the fires with Japanese cedar so they smell lovely.

The monks and their wives prepare vats of steaming hot amazake, a sweet drink made from fermented rice, as well as have readied numerous bottles of rice wine and hundreds of small porcelain cups. In the picture below you can see that they are offering everyone drinks. The light in the background is on the tower where the big bell is hung.

After our warming beverages and some small chat with the monks, we line up at the bottom of the tower. By midnight there is quite a line.

The ladder leading up to the narrow platform we must balance on to ring the bell is a tad shoddy and ill lit. The head monk, however, always provides illumination in the form of a large goose-shaped light. It never fails to crack me up. Just as we enter the building and make our way up the ladder, there stands a goose (or a duck) with a light bulb up its butt. The cutest darned thing. So Zen, I think.

When midnight strikes a group of local taiko drummers take off all their clothes, begin playing and we're allowed to go up and take a swing at the bell. We climb back down and let the next person/family go up.

Now the bell is only supposed to be rung 108 times, one for each human passion or sin. But again, the head monk is a hoot and doesn't count or hand out numbers. Instead, he just lets us have at it until the last person is done.

Here is a different temple. But you can feel the mood. Our temple is darker and the bell is on the second floor of a small tower. No snow either.

Oh, here is J (two years ago) enjoying some too-hot amazake. He's sleepy.

After we ring the bell we go home, get three to four hours sleep, and then I wake everyone's asses up at five AM to go see the first sunrise of the New Year. Here, we again pile into the car and head to the beach. Invariably, there are already dozens of people there milling about -- teenagers in tight groups trying to keep warm, old men building beach fires and getting drunk on sake and trying to invite the teenage girls to join keep warm. The mood is far from the relaxed mellowness of the night before. It's more high tension giddiness if anything. Everyone gazes across the ocean and waits for the sun to come up. When it breaks the horizon or line of clouds a cheer goes up and some tipsy old fellow makes a toast to the New Year and makes us all "BONZAI!" three times. By us I mean everyone on the beach. He's quite insistent.

Oh, and before I forget, for your first dream of the New Year there is an old Japanese saying:

"Ichi fuji, ni taka, san nasu", which means it is good luck to dream of Mount Fuji, a hawk or an eggplant. The most felicitous dream would be that of Fuji, next the bird, then the vegetable.


plaidearthworm said...

Wow, wonderful descriptions! Just found this blog through AW, and I'll definitely bookmark it. I've always wondered about life in Japan, and your blog is a great peephole into an intriguing culture.

Kappa no He said...

Thank you, Plaid. I love your name!

Virginia Lee said...

Terrie, you are so wonderful to take the time to share such wonderful experiences with us in order that we may live through you vicariously. Well, so I can anyway!

You have many books in you, my friend. I cannot wait to read them all.


Kappa no He said...

You're a sweetheart and a half. Muwa! (^3^)chu!