Japanese New Year
Ringing in the New Year in Japan is very different than in the west. Although with some effort, finding a countdown party is possible, however, for most Japanese its uncommon to celebrate in this fashion. In Japan, it’s tradition to visit a temple or shrine of choice during oshogatsu, the period between January 1st to 3rd. This visit is called hatsumode in Japanese and serves as an important opportunity to pray for a prosperous New Year. Although paying your respects can be done anytime during oshogatsu, the most impressive visits are at the actual turn of the year, when large temple bells are rung at midnight. Depending on where you live in Japan, the temple in which one may visit during oshogatsu may differ. Some families may choose to visit a local neighborhood temple or shrine, while others may prefer a more prominent historical one, such as Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, which attracts several millions of people during the three days. This year, I visited two of the most popular temples in Tokushima for hatsumode – Oasahiko Temple and Yakuoji Temple. Following in Japanese customs, I also purchased an omikuji, a New Year’s fortune written on a slip of paper. These fortunes are usually received by pulling one out randomly from a box. There are several degrees of good and bad fortunes, from a Great blessing (dai-kichi) to a Great curse (dai-kyō). The omikuji predicts the person’s chances of his or her hopes coming true, of finding a good match, or generally matters of health, fortune, life, etc. When the prediction is bad, it’s customary to fold up the strip of paper and attach it to a pine tree on the temple grounds. As for my fortune for 2006, I was lucky enough to receive a daikichi from Yakuoji Temple in Hiwasa. I guess my boys back home can rest easy as the 6-peat championship is now in the bag!