New year customs
Just like everywhere else, Japan has its own customs for the New Year, more or less followed depending on the area. I am pretty lucky since Hita is a small town, where traditions are respected.
It starts a few days before the New Year, with something that dates back several centuries ago, called 夜警 (yakei). It consists in roaming the streets, calling for caution against fire. Indeed, houses were traditionally built with wood and fire used to represent a much greater danger than nowadays: The New Year was a symbolic opportunity to remind everyone to be careful. This year, I managed to participate and here I am, with my uncle to my right:
On the 31st, there is a custom I hate: the big year-end cleanup (大掃除 in Japanese), done even in shops and companies. Fortunately, I got away with cleaning a few windows, which took 20 minutes top.
After that, you can relax (except if you're the housewife, in which case you also have to prepare the dinner). The dinner has to include soba (noodles), which traditionally allow the New Year to come, and red beans.
After midnight, everybody goes to the shrine to ring the bell and make wishes for the New Year. It was the first time for me and the atmosphere, straight out of a movie, was absolutely fantastic!
Also I was lucky, my cousin showed up right after midnight (I was expecting him only today) so we could hang out together.
And today, a family meal:
From left to right: my uncle's mother, my aunt, my uncle (former judo teacher), Go-chan, Hiro-kun (my cousin) and Yui-chan.
We then went for a walk, stopping by the family grave:
A remarkable feat: my uncle's family has been living in the same house for 3 centuries, since Edo period!!!
If you have children or nephews, you are supposed to give them money in an envelope, it is called お年玉 (otoshidama). Needless to say, children wait for that moment and never miss the occasion to remind you that custom!
That's it! I wish you a Happy New Year 2007!!!