Monday, 4 January 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I hope that 2010 is a year filled with peace, health and happiness for you all.

On New Year's Day we went over to H's parents' house. There was about 10cm of snow on the ground but that didn't bother us, seeing as their place is only a couple of minutes walk from ours. Like many people, they had a traditional New Year decoration made of straw, fern-type leaves and an orange on the door. Some people even tie a smaller version to the front of their car! As it was a national holiday they were also flying the national flag, which is still reasonably common around here but less so than it once was.

Traditionally in Japan people spend the last few days of the old year giving their house a big clean, ready to greet the New Year, and cooking so that they won't have to on New Year's Day. The traditional New Years food, called o-sechi, mainly consists of various items which have been simmered in quite a sweet broth, all served cold. I'm not really a fan and I don't think that many young Japanese people are either really! Most people get theirs from a supermarket now instead of spending days in the kitchen. Here's what H's parents got for the 'bargain' price of 10,000 yen (click on the photo if you want to see a bigger version):

At the top, there is white Japanese radish, carrots and renkon (lotus root) and the yellow stuff is sweet potato mashed with chestnuts. Going clockwise there is a sea bream (tai), some simmered shiitake mushrooms and arrowhead bulbs (kuwai), some sazae shells ('turban shells' apparently) and semi-dried cod, and some black beans at the bottom. Then there are some little dried fishes and some Battenburg cake (no, sorry, it's some kind of processed fish stuff). Then some more processed fish 'sausage' (the pink and white stuff) and some sweet omelette, shrimps, bamboo shoots and scallops. In the centre there's some ikura (salmon roe), kazunoko (herring roe) and a little spiny lobster.

Personally I'd much rather just have some 'everyday' winter food, like a big nabe hotpot...

We brought along a bottle of sparkling wine, and K enjoyed playing wine steward:

Don't worry, the bottle was empty by then!

In the afternoon we wandered over to the little local shrine. Most people go to a (Shinto) shrine just after midnight on New Year's Eve or in the first few days of the year to pray for a good year and buy some good luck trinkets. There are no organised 'services' like you would find at a church; you simply throw a small coin in the offering box, ring the bell and clap to waken the gods and then put your hands together in a moments prayer.

The priest at this shrine is H's uncle. Usually the shrine is unattended (he has an unrelated full-time job) but this time of year is the shrine's busiest and he and his 'shrine maidens' (H's cousins) are there pretty much all the time for the first few days of the year, including the early hours of New Year's Day. The front of the building is completely open, so it's pretty cold...

Usually visitors don't actually go up into the shrine itself, but K gets special treatment, including having a go at the drum :-)

In the forefront of the picture you can see the various good luck charms for sale. We bought a wooden arrow (hamaya), and each picked a fortune from the box after dropping in our 10 yen. K is obviously the smartest of us all because he wanted to pick out the nice shiny coins instead of the paper fortunes...

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