Статьи Скотта Гормана (Scott Gorman)

January 13, 2009

Ringing In the New Year in Kisakata

We ran, shrieking with the cold, towards the shrine just outside the door and down the alley. Candles were lit and favor of the gods sought; in the flickering light I could see all the members of the Hosoya family, shivering but reverent.

The three girls bolted back towards the house as soon as Papa said it was OK. The NHK New Year’s Eve TV gala was into its second or third hour, and they might be missing Folder Five, a teen-based kawaii (cute) group, or Da Pump, hip-hoppers with streaked blonde hair and sneers.

The rest of the family, the older ones, weren’t far behind. Grabbing a beer or sake, eating special foods made only at the holiday, they also waited out the hours for the New Year to come. They preferred the older, elegant singers on the TV extravaganza, the septuagenarians made up in pink like children, singing songs that were from Japanese tradition — not copies of Western pop groups. The Papa sang along.

Except for maybe the Beatles, these are his favorite songs.

New Years in rural, frozen Japan. No matter what I am doing this year, or next — nothing is going to top these memories for quite a while. When you observe your own traditions with those you know, one year has a tendency to just melt into another. But eyes wide open in a different culture, it really feels like a passage, a day by which to mark and define one’s life. At least that’s how it felt to me.

The year 2001, a year from my past, was put to rest with the family, a wonderful group who had adopted me for the duration. I welcomed 2002 at the temple, just like the more devout members of my Jewish family might hope I would.

Good thing they didn’t specify what kind of temple. This was Kanmamji Temple, Buddhist and a thousand years old.

About 11:30 p.m. most people begin to gather at the Temple. The main sanctuary, where one bows, claps and tosses coins as offerings, is alive with activity, ablaze with light. The priest is alone in there, though, preparing offerings and moving in ritualistic fashion, slowly, slowly. People are buying gifts and paper blessings at a small booth that I never saw open on any other day of the year. Others walk with candles, greeting each other, some a little happy-drunk, some quite serious.

It is very, very cold. But I get in the long snaking line of people waiting to enter the bell tower of a small temple and take our turn at midnight at ramming a suspended log into a great bell, tolling out the sins of humankind.

See, there’s a big difference in cultures already. Even if we adopted this in the West, we could only ring once (for Original Sin, of course) or at most eight, if you throw in the Seven Deadly Sins.

Well, there were over a hundred people in that line, but there was plenty for all of us to do. In Japan, the bells are struck for each of the 108 evil desires the people believe humans inherit at birth, and that in life must be driven away.

You know, that seems more realistic to me. I’m still working on those 108 evil desires, but I get hung up on gluttony and false pride.

All around, people are covering the entire area of the shrines and temples at Kanmanji. They perform the ceremony called oharai which believers say absolves one of the past year’s sins. People stand before a shrine and clap their hands to bring the attention of the gods. Ceremonial wooden arrows and other talismans are offered along with the money jingling in collection bins.

At just a moment or so after midnight, I took up the huge log on a rope, pulled with all my strength and rammed it into the bell. It was loud, so whatever sin or evil desire I was chiming in for must have been a real good one.

Some people go to beaches or mountain tops to await the first ray of the New Year’s sun. I was settled into my futons by then, looking forward to New Years Day with the Hosoyas. I brought yen notes in special envelopes for the children, as is the custom. We venerated ancestors at a small shrine built into the home’s tatami mat room. A breakfast/lunch banquet commenced.

We had the traditional foods: kazunoko, or herring roe, a symbol of fertility and procreation; seven-herb rice porridge, nanagusa-gayu, for a healthy year to come; and all the rest, including many forms of mochi, the pounded rice that people take such pride in here in rice-King Akita Prefecture.

I stayed a long time, spent a little time visiting other friends, which is also customary. Most had their TV on all day, just like at home.

Just before sunset on that first day of 2002, I walked the short distance to the Sea of Japan and looked out upon the boiling wake. I venerated my own ancestors, and more than a few friends as well.

It’s odd, but there have been times since returning to Anacortes when I have suffered from reverse culture shock — some things I’ve known well and even been part of seemed strange to me. That phaase has passed, and I find now it is a common feeling among people returning home from a place that really marks them in a positive way.

Like I said, I’m not sure what I am doing this New Years. Truth is, I wish it could be just like last year, but this isn’t possible, only a dream, with a soundtrack of bells ringing, girls giggling, the footfall of priests and the crash of waves.

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