Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Japanese New Year

Although we celebrated a little differently we thought it would be interesting to learn how our host country celebrates the coming of a new year.

Here in Iwakuni many people with eat osechi. It consists of seaweed, fish cakes and mashed sweet potatoes. You can buy it at the stores in dried form. Many people eat it this way as it is traditional (from before refrigerators). They also put out a kagami mochi - this is a small tower made of sticky rice. It is put out as decoration with mikan (tangerines) sliced on top. The sticky rice is put out as food for past and future generations. On January 4th, most families will eat from it. In the last couple weeks many of these small sticky rice towers can be bought from 100 yen stores. A friend explained that most grandmothers will make a tower from scratch and the whole family will eat at their house. The small ones at each house just get thrown away.

The Buddhist believe in bell ringing at midnight on December 31. Many families will go to the temples at midnight to hear the bells rind 108 times. They believe this clears their sins from the past year. Merchants set up shops and sell blessed trinkets to ward off bad spirits in your car, house, etc. They will pray over you for good health, pregnancy, etc. On New Year's Day each member of the family rings the bell.

Our friend explained that many Japanese will play Beethoven's 9th on New Year's Day. This tradition is falling a little is mostly just done by older generations. She couldn't explain why, but I found an interesting explanation:
The Ninth was introduced to Japan by German prisoners-of-war held in Japan during World War I. Japanese orchestras, began performing the symphony in 1925. During World War II, the Imperial government promoted performances of the symphony, including on New Year's Eve, to encourage allegiance to Japanese nationalism. The symphony was considered appropriate in this regard because Nazi Germany was an ally of Japan. After the war, orchestras and choruses, undergoing economic hard times during the reconstruction of Japan, promoted performances of the piece around New Years because of the popularity of the music with the public. In the 1960s, performances of the symphony at New Years became more widespread, including participation by local choirs and orchestras, and established the tradition which continues to this day.
Pretty interesting how different cultures celebrate the coming of a new year. So whether you rang a bell or ate spinach and black-eyed peas, Happy New Year!

Tokyo Tower

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