I find xmas in Japan to be a very pleasant and relaxing time - no need to cook, no need to clean, no need to pretend that I actually care. Because I don’t. Instead, I dread the Japanese New Year’s Day.
I still don’t cook and clean - luckily, my mother in law does that, but the simple fact that I’m expected to eat traditional foods (no, I don’t like mochi and I’m not going to pretend I do, yet they still push it down my throat. What? Do you see me forcing kugel on my in-laws? No. So back off.) and freeze my butt off at the shrine makes me seriously consider faking a bad case of flu.
Ozoni soup, this one has a distinct Tochigi (northern Kanto) flavor.
Osechi - basically a bunch of little dishes, counterclockwise starting at the top: shredded daikon (radish) with vinegar and Japanese omelette, kinton (sweet bean), kamaboko (broiled fish paste), tuna sashimi, konbumaki (seaweed roll), in the center - kazunoko (fish eggs)
This year it was too cold and windy to wear a kimono (what a relief!) and we even managed to convince MIL to drive to the shrine (Futara-yama jinja in Utsunomiya, not to be confused with Futarasan in Nikko)) instead of taking the bus. On the way downtown we saw an ambulance in full rescue mode parked in front of a block of flats. “Probably some old person choked on their mochi,” MIL remarked off-handedly.
Down at the shrine the street was a zoo. But since this is Japan, this was a very orderly zoo. Still, the wait looked to be about an hour, if not longer.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not the type to wait in the cold for over an hour for a ten-second opportunity to throw some money, clap my hands and bow. I was hoping that after seeing the long line of people, this would be my chance to start moaning and kvetching and insisting we go home.
No such luck, however. This was the bloody New Year’s Day and I was going to be dragged to the shrine kicking and screaming, if that’s what it took.
Instead of waiting in line and kicking me (well, she had her chance), MIL led us to the behind-the-shrine parking lots. From there we managed to get inside and onto the shrine grounds without any problems, and without any waiting. It was very odd, really. Cops were guarding the main entrance by the steps to Futara, but somehow nobody thought of posting a guard by the parking lot exit to prevent jerks like us from sneaking in.
Once inside, we blended into the throng of people (waiting is for wusses, ha!) and did our thing - throw some money, bow x2, clap x2, pray/ make a wish/ whatever, bow once, finished. We skipped the hand and mouth washing, though, I'm too afraid of germs for that.
When I did my hand clapping and bowing I was suddenly attacked by a flock of cellphone cameras. What people? Never seen a gaijin praying on New Year’s Day? Sheesh…
My retribution was swift. After my clapping and bowing, it was my turn to take pictures. And here they are…
Maintaining law and order at the shrine
Inside Futara - crowd waiting to pray.
To see more New Year's Day photos visit Utsunomiya Daily Photo.