Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year, a rant, and Happy New Year Again

First off, Happy New Year!

Over the years my husband, son and I have developed two steadfast New Year's traditions: One is to visit our local temple at midnight on New Year's Eve to ring out all the sins of the past year (joya no kane).

Last year the head monk passed away. So sad. That man was the epitome of Zen. He had a great laugh, easy smile and I remember more than once a hormone-raging, very pregnant me drove up into the mountain to talk to him about my mother-in-law and her various psychological tortures. No matter what he was doing he'd sit and talk to me and make me feel better. I'll miss him. On the other hand, his super-hot son is now in charge.

Here is the bell tower lit from beneath by one of those fires-in-a-drum-can you often see on movies. They use bamboo so it's not only fragrant but extremely snappy, occasionally explode-y.

There was quite a line this year to ring the bell. Most normal people ring it once per family member. For some reason I haven't quite figured out, the three of us crouch down and all grab the rope and give one giant gong instead. I guess we're aiming for quality not quantity. Here is a picture I took where my husband is saying, "Aren't you going to help?" And my son is saying, "Mom, hurry up everyone is waiting!" The non-photographers in the family, everyone has them.

Afterwards, we drank hot sake (husband), and sweet amazake (J and I), threw our coins into the box, watched some taiko drumming and then headed home. In bed by two thirty. Up again at five thirty for our second family tradition.

Namely, the watching of the first sunrise of the New Year (hatsu hinode). Still sleepy and looking like crap we all loaded into the car and drove out to the beach. Just last year we discovered a great new place.

Look at all those zombiesque-looking creatures building bonfires to keep warm and marching around searching for warm brains. Mount Fuji, too.


Below is a shot of the sky just before the first sunrise. We're all getting excited about now.

And here it is! The first sunrise of 2009, all shiny and hopeful. And warm, too. Look at that.
Meanwhile, there are troops of dancing teams performing our town's special 'dance' and waving enormous flags nearby. There were TV crews and cameras and an announcer on the loud speaker directing us all in a mass 'Banzai!'

Everyone saluting the sun.

"Oh, sun so mighty and hot. Let us win the End-of-the-Year Lottery."

* A short rant *

Over the holidays I received some heavenly care packages/presents from family back home (Thank you!). My mom happened to include a bag of Christmasy-colored M & Ms. I'll admit I haven't lived in the States for nearly twenty years and I'm sure a lot has changed, but I have one thing to say, what the hell happened to quality control and the M & Ms factory!?

It's hard to tell from the picture but the colors aren't even the same! All three greens are in different shades.

When I was a kid M & Ms were all the same size, shape and color. M & Ms were magical. They melted in your mouth and not in your hand. Stuff like this makes me feel way old, makes me want to whine and moan and tell stories of back 'when I was a youngin'...' It also makes me want to call the corporate office and give them a piece of my mind. No, really. WTF?

Okay. I'm better now. The CEO at Mars may feel free to e-mail me. We can talk. Humph. Now, if this was some crappy candy like those Peeps or those pukey Valentine's Day hearts I wouldn't care so much. But M & Ms!

Back to New Year's stuff.

Finally, 2009 is the Year of the Cow. I took a bunch of pictures for my Christmas cards and New Year's postcards cards and these are a couple that didn't get chosen, but I liked them none the less and thought I'd post them here.

The dog and the child very obviously NOT looking at the camera and smiling as directed by mom.

And finally, J thinking this will be the shot to be used but not realizing the poor dog can't see.

And to end with a bit of stinging humor. When I showed my mother-in-law the pictures she said... (drum roll, please) ...."The dog looks like he's dressed as a goat." Gotta love her.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Toshikoshi Soba

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that on the last night of the year everyone in Japan will be eating soba noodles. This meal is traditionally called toshikoshi soba or year-crossing soba (buckwheat noodles). And I'm not kidding when I say that I really think everyone partakes in the custom. You should see the lines outside soba restaurants and the piles of tempura bought in supermarkets.

Eating the hot or cold noodles on the last day of the year is an auspicious way to 'cross over' to the New Year. There are several stories as to why. One, is that soba noodles are easily cut which signifies cutting off all your troubles and pain from this year so that you can start the new one afresh. Another is that back in the day, the craftsmen who worked with gold would use balls of soba dough to clean up their areas. All the tiny flakes of gold would stick to the dough. It was thought then that eating soba at the end of the year would insure a nice collection of wealth for the coming year.

My mother-in-law told me the reason soba noodles are eaten is because people wish to live their life like a soba noodle:thin and long. Of course, living long means a nice long life. Living thin, however, doesn't refer to your weight but to the way you live. Living thinly means not living extravagantly or excessively. She explained to me that you (I) should live cautiously and prudently. I told her I liked the idea of living long but that instead of soba I would eat toshikoshi udon, a much thicker and well-lived noodle if you ask me.

She was not impressed. To this day she brings over expensive bundles of homemade soba to keep me upholding the tradition the correct way. Maybe I should eat toshikoshi lasagna!

Anyways, one more thing that you must remember is that it is very bad luck to eat toshikoshi soba (or udon or lasagna) on New Year's Day. You must dine on the delicacy before midnight. Or else. Now that you mention it...that's not unlike a gremlin.

He, he, he! Happy New Year! I'll post tomorrow with all the fancy foods eaten during the New Year's holidays. My mother-in-law at work again! Yum!