2012 came to Japan today (many readers are still celebrating New Year’s even now due to time-zone difference), but it was a crazy day.
We spent the morning at home, eating osechi-ryōri (おせち料理), a staple of Japanese New Year:
If you ask me, osechi-ryori is like getting those boxes of mixed chocolates: you eat your favorite ones right away, and slowly eat the leftovers one by one.
Since I went to bed early last night, I didn’t get to see the annual Kohaku Uta Gassen TV special. However, my sister-in-law wisely recorded it, and so we watched it this morning. I think the red team (girls) won this year. For me, I was just happy (and a little surprised) to see that SNSD on stage for Kohaku:
Seeing them stand next to Arashi was kind of surreal for me.1 🙂 The fact that SNSD played my favorite song “Genie” was even better, especially when Taeyeon sings her solo part at the end.
From there, we decided to do hatsumōde (初詣) today, which is the first temple visit of the year. Originally we thought about going to Meiji Shrine, but we got off to a late start, and decided not to spend 4 hours in line there. Instead, we opted for Kawasaki Daishi, which is a huge Shingon Buddhist temple not too far from where we live. We went there last year as well or maybe the year before. I can’t remember.
Anyhow, my daughter put on her little kimono we bought yesterday:
…and off we went.
We took the local Nambu Line train to Kawasaki Station, which feeds into a huge indoor shopping area. It was then that we noticed the overhead signs were swaying back and forth, and a lot rattling sound. Everyone around us stopped and looked up and we realized that we just had an earthquake. In fact, I got an email notice from the USGS service about it, and it turns out to have been a 6.8 earthquake! Because the Izu Islands are somewhat removed from the Tokyo area (including Kawasaki City), we felt more of a rattling and swaying, but that was about it.
Kawasaki Daishi temple was extremely busy as expected, it is one of the most popular destinations in eastern Japan for Hatsumode. Because we came later in the afternoon, rather than in the morning, the line was somewhat smaller, but still took us about an hour to get through it. At certain points along the route, we had to listen to Christians proselytizing on loudspeakers reminding us that we were all going to hell in Japanese. While, I don’t want to criticize one’s religious beliefs, it seemed a pretty insensitive way to get one’s message across, and made me kind of embarrassed to be a foreigner.2
Anyhow, the human wave continued all the way to the hondō (本堂), or central hall:
It was a huge surge that would stop, move, stop, move, etc. You can see the police holding signs helping to control the flow of traffic. I carried my daughter all the way up to the central hall where we both made offerings to the large donation box, while I recited the mantra for Kūkai 3 times (namu daishi henjō kongō). Trying to get back outside was really hard though. We were all stuck, and being a big foreigner it was even harder to move my way through. Finally we got through the crowd and back outside. We didn’t stay too much longer. We offered our old omamori and ofuda, per Japanese tradition, to be ritually burned in gratitude, then I bought a new omamori and new wrist rosary (o-nenju お念珠).
We left the house around 2pm, and probably got home around 8pm. By then we were exhausted, but we had successfully completed another yearly hatsumode after an exciting and sometimes nerve-wracking day.
Happy 2012 Everyone!
1 As many commenters on YouTube have noted, SNSD stood taller than Arashi, though in fairness they were wearing high-heels. Still, kind of funny. 🙂
2 Just imagine a bunch of Buddhists evangelicals standing outside your church on Christmas morning reminding that you that by slandering the Lotus Sutra, you’re doomed to the Avici Hell and countless unfortunate rebirths. Yeah, that’s what it feels like.