Thursday, January 13, 2011

New Year’s & Hatsumode

Posted by Maki Nako

       One of the biggest events of the year in Okinawa, like many other places on earth, is New Year’s. The celebrations of New Year’s remind me how different life is here in comparison to life in Canada. There, the countdown to New Year’s is one great glitzy party often lasting until dawn, and of course in Okinawa and in the rest of Japan, the party scene may be no different, but traditionally, New Year’s is welcomed peacefully with family.
              Many families spend their New Year’s Eve at home, snuggled up in their kotatsu heating tables, nibbling on mandarin oranges and watching the national New Year’s tradition, Kohaku Uta-Gassen, the prestigious music program on television. Soba noodles in broth are eaten for dinner or as late-night meals, as the long, thin soba noodles are believed to be auspicious, symbolizing a long and healthy life. 
              Once the 108 peals of the Joyano kane or the traditional bell starts to sound, as the New Year draws closer, the younger members of the family begin to get restless with anticipation for the countdown. In Okinawa, there are several places that display fireworks starting at midnight of the New Year, coloring the night sky with brilliant colors and adding to the excitement. Past midnight, the streets begin to get congested, as people start to make their way to the shrines for their first visits, called the Hatsumode. Some of the most popular Hatsumode destinations in Okinawa are the Gokoku Jinja and Naminoue Shinto shrines in Naha, Futenma Jingu in Ginowan, or Naritasan in Nakagusuku
Once there, people cleanse themselves with the sacred water at the entrance of the shrines, then proceed to the main area to pray for happiness and good health in the New Year. Most visitors will purchase omamori, which are talismans, amulets and other protective charms to cast away bad luck and bring good fortune. Omikuji or oracles are also purchased, and you will see many people anxious to read what is written in the small paper, all hoping for the characters 大吉; the greatest of fortunes. Even those who happen to pick an oracle with the dreaded , the extreme opposite, the wise words and lessons written in them aren’t so bad. The oracles contain wisdom meant to guide us in the New Year, and many visitors will tie their oracles on a tree branch or lines set by the shrines for the purpose.
As you make your way through the crowds and pass by the many stalls of food, treats and games, the sights, smells and sounds are very similar to omatsuri festivals, but distinctively different at Hatsumode, is that you can feel in the air, the hopes and wishes of the people for the New Year.