New Year’s Eve didn’t go as planned, but it was interesting too.
Originally we planned on taking my daughter and I to a local temple to take part in the bell-ringing service, or joya no kane, but I had to stay home as my daughter still has a lingering cough, and was very tired that night. Instead, I spent the time polishing up some blog posts and listening to Brown Eyed Girls on YouTube (I regret not buying their CD when I went to Shin Okubo… more on that soon). My wife went to Tokyo Dome with her best friend to enjoy a concert by Kinki Kids, her favorite group since she was young. The “Kinki” in the name refers to the duo’s home in the Kinki region of Japan (Kyoto, Nara) and not something else. Anyhow, I am happy for my wife as she hasn’t been to a Kinki Kids concern in about 10 years, so I wholeheartedly encouraged her to go.
Earlier in the day, we all went to visit the grave of a neighbor who recently passed away. This is called ohaka mairi (お墓参り). Shortly before we came to Japan, my wife’s neighbor’s wife passed away. My wife’s family, and their family have been very close. I personally know 3 generations of their family and watched them grow up, so I was sad and shocked to find out the grandmother had passed away due to a sudden bout of pneumonia (she was home alone when it happened). Suffice to say, the once vibrant grandfather looked much more tired and somehow resigned than I last remembered him. It reminds me of the fragility of life.
Anyhow, for the ohaka mairi we drove to the temple where the grandmother’s grave was, which was a local Soto Zen temple (she was a lay Soto Zen Buddhist). It was actually my first time visiting a Soto Zen temple. Unlike temples in the US, which focus on meditation only, temples in Japan are more community-focused, while actual “training halls” for monks are often separate. Still, it was a side of Soto Zen I had never seen before and actually found it interesting. I suppose other Western Buddhist converts might say “what? no meditation? that’s not Buddhism!”, but I say come to Japan and get to know things on the ground. Ironically, being there somehow made me appreciate Soto Zen more because I realized there was a lot more than Western converts fighting about lineages and other stupid stuff online (and in books).
We changed the flowers at the grave with fresh ones, offered a large bundle of incense sticks (each of us offered a few), did gassho (a Buddhist gesture) and poured water over the gravestone using a ladle and a bucket of water. This is to honor the dead, but also it is believed that ghosts are thirsty so the offering of water is to relieve their suffering.
Once this was done, we went shopping for New Year’s goods. We went to Ito Yokado, which is a popular department store, roughly comparable to Target in the US (but much better customer service like everything else in Japan). Everyone was scrambling to get last-minute New Year’s items:
These decorations or kazari (飾り) are kind of good-luck items that people often hang on their front door, or sometimes in the car. You can see them on many homes in Japan at this time of year.
Also, we decided to get a little kimono for my daughter. Kimonos for 5 year old girls are not that common because girls tend to wear kimonos at age 7 for Shichigosan, or as teenagers for school-events (graduation, coming of age, etc). Still, my daughter and her grandparents thought it would be great to get her one for New Year’s Day, so after calling around, we found a nice kimono shop at the local Takashimaya department store. Takashimaya is pretty upscale, even by Japanese standards, so it was a nice treat to go. We actually went there the previous day because there is a good bookstore there, and I got myself some good books on Korean language in Japanese (more on that later), but today was much more busy because it was December 31st, and everyone was doing last-minute shopping.
Once that was done, we had some good soba (I tried natto-soba which was awesome), and went home. My little one wasn’t feeling too well, and I wanted her to sleep rather than stay up until midnight, so I decided to stay home (rusuban 留守番 in Japanese), so my in-laws could go to ring the bell at the local temple. I have plenty to look forward to tomorrow for Hatsumode (the first temple visit), so that’s fine. I was happy to catch up on the blog.
Also, my daughter celebrated her 5th birthday a couple days ago. This was her birthday cake, featuring her favorite Disney princess, Aurora from Sleeping Beauty:
She did much better this year. Last year, the room was too hot, and I think she was nervous so she threw up around this time. This year, she had a lot of fun. Happy Birthday, sweetie.
Anyhow, I’ll write more in 2012. See you then!
Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!
P.S. This is an impromptu post, apologies for editing/grammar mistakes.