Sunday, January 1, 2012


First off, happy New Year, everyone!  Today's post will be kind of scatter-brained and probably full of typos because we have walked about 25 miles in the past three days and I am excessively exhausted.

First off

...this is a sign from Oasis 21.  Because it is an 「Aqua spaceship」.  Please acknowledge it.

Also, there was this random group of girls performing there when we went.

Anyway, Friday!

We decided to go on a really long walk to a bunch of shrines in my area.

But first we went to Yagoto Cemetery, which is a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuge cemetery.

Where one of the gravestones had a family seal which appeared to be a Triforce symbol?

Then we went to Gosha Shrine.

Where the New Year's decorations had been put up.

Also, I got to teach Nick and Miranda how to pray at a shrine.  It was very exciting.  Which is to say that Miranda thought that it was way too much fun.

I was supposed to take a picture of this for Miranda and Nick.  I DUNNO WHY.

So this was our lunch-like meal.  Japanese bakeries = amazing.

To be fair, not all of those are pastries.  We are not completely ridiculous people.

...okay, maybe we are.

So then we went to Koshouji, which is a big temple in the area that I have somehow managed to not go to despite living here for three months?

There were these extremely exciting cutouts, so we took pictures.

I look really creepy in this picture.

Also, as it turned out, our glasses were just wide enough that we couldn't actually stick our heads in the holes.  AWKWARD.

So then we climbed up a bunch of steps, to where they had the bell they were going to ring for New Years.*

Miranda decided to try to ring it.  (You're allowed to ring it at any time, just to be clear. It's just that it's also rung at New Year's.)

She thought that was way too much fun too.

Also, as it turns out, the temple has a spot for mizuko,** which is what I'm reading about now.

They also had a pet cemetery.

So then we went to Susanoo Shrine and Kawahara Shrine and Ikatsu Hachimangu and it was basically a whole lot of walking.  And then we went to the weird pasta and cake place for dinner, where we discovered that two of their cakes have meat in them?  That was exciting.

Also, on New Year's you're supposed to offer kagami mochi (a kind of mochi) with a mikan on top to the kami, but this is a kind of cheap equivalent made of plastic.

Also, this New Year's decoration was hanging in front of the door to my dorm.

So that was Friday!


We decided to go to Atsuta Shrine, where they had already decorated for New Year's.

Here's a place they had set up where you could drop off your ofuda and omamori from the last year for ritual burning.

This is a really cool ema we found. I think it might be hand-made, because we couldn't find any others.

Here are some extra offices they had set up to sell ofuda and omamori and omikuji during the New Year's festivities.

Oh, hey, this looks familiar.


So then we headed over to Susanoo Shrine for their Ooharai.  It was a very short ceremony (16 minutes).  In addition to the norito, we wrote our names on little people-shaped slips of paper, blew on them three times, pressed them to any parts of our bodies which were hurting and/or worrying us, and then passed them over to Nakano-san for ritual burning.  There were a total of ten attendants, so about twice as many as usual, although Nick and Miranda were two, two were a Japanese couple visiting from Australia who apparently used to live in the area, and two were the husband and son of one of the regular attendents.  So we didn't actually have any randoms from the community.

Theeeeeeeeeen we went over to Kawahara Shrine's Ooharai, which was much longer and better attended.  There were probably 30+ people there (I didn't count them so I don't know for sure), although I would say that the average age was 65 or so.  (The average age at Susanoo, not counting us gaijin, was probably 40.)  Most of the people seemed to know each other, which seems reasonable, given that I didn't see any signs advertising the event (unlike at Susanoo), so the people who came are those most involved with the shrine.  It was fairly obvious that the ceremony was geared toward people who normally attend ceremonies as well, because at Susanoo Shrine, Nakano-san calls out, "Please bow your head" or "Please stand up" or "Please sit down" at various points in the ceremony, whereas at Kawahara, everyone knew when to bow or stand up or sit down so no one announced it.
Also, the means of purification at Kawahara were two shide attached to a stick slightly thicker than a coffee stirrer, which you were supposed to flick over your left then right then left shoulder.

Afterwards we had a nice chat with Itou-san, which is to say that I translated back and forth and managed not to botch anything up too badly.  As we were leaving, they were preparing the giant bonfire for the evening, but unfortunately it turned out that it wasn't going to be lit until 10 or 11 that evening. Oh well.

I would have gone to a midnight shrine visit, but given that I had to wake up at 7 a.m. this morning, that would have meant getting 6 (or fewer***) hours of sleep, which was probably a very bad idea.  So that didn't happen.  Oh well.  I'm kind of sad about it (okay, I'm pretty bummed), but I think it was for the best.  There will be other years, preferably ones where I can sleep in late the next morning.

Today!  It was New Years!  So I went down to Susanoo Shrine (and dragged Nick and Miranda with me) to help out with their New Year's ceremony.  We arrived at 9 a.m., but there were already people visiting the shrine for hatsumoude (first visit to a shrine/temple of the year).  One of the women brought her six-year-old son, so Nick and Miranda got to be semi-babysitters and learned Japanese from him.  Exciting.  Meanwhile, I filled sake and water containers and arranged the rice and salt offerings, helped prepare the ozenzai (a kind of sweet bean soup), passed out the ozenzai to people who came to the shrine (and got to use super fancy speech at them), and helped out with other random things.  I also got to watch the people who came to the shrine, and discovered that everyone came in groups of one, three, or four.  With the exception of one couple who met at the shrine, there were no couples who came, and the groups of three and four always included a child (so they were two parents and a child, a grandparent and two children, two parents and grandparent and a child, two parents and two children, etc.).  Some of them (usually the older people) knew the other people helping out at the shrine and would stop in for a chat, but a lot of them obviously didn't know the shrine-affiliated people.  (And some of them didn't even know the shrine.  One of the women who was visiting pulled the woman helping me hand out ozenzai aside and asked her in an undertone how to read the kanji of the shrine.  Oops.)

Nakano-san showed up at 11 with her two daughters (and announced that we had screwed and we didn't actually need the alcohol-water-rice-sake offerings ALL MY BEAUTIFUL WORK FOR NOTHING), and we all went on the stage for a short New Year's ceremony.  There was the basic purification followed by a norito about the New Year and then Nakano-san's daughters performed kagura.  It was short (and made shorter by the freezing cold, because Nakano-san told everyone to go pay their respects on their own at the auxiliary shrines rather than performing separate ceremonies for them).
Afterwards we grilled mochi on top of the space heaters and dropped it into the ozenzai.  SO TASTY.
(We also cleaned up a bunch of stuff, but that's not very exciting to write about.)
Anyway, by then it was almost 1 p.m., so Nick and Miranda and I headed back to my dorm so I could put on warmer clothes.  But first I discovered that I got NEW YEAR'S CARDS FROM OTHER FULBRIGHTERS!  SO EXCITING!

So then we headed over to Nagoya Station, because Itou-san told us it was probably a good idea to get our tickets to go to Kyoto ahead of time, because the trains might be really crowded.  So we did that, and then we decided to try to find food, which would up being very exciting, because apparently Japan on New Year's is more Land of the Dead-ish than the US on Christmas.

Seriously, I was just waiting for the zombies to show up.

Anyway, we finally found a CoCo Ichibanya that was open (it's a curry place).  And Nick decided to get the spiciest possible curry, because he is Nick.

I would click on the image to read the text, because it's kind of hilarious.
When the waitress brought him the dish, she wished him good luck.
He actually admitted that it was spicy and turned bright red and drank a whole lot of water.  I tried a spoonful, and I would compare the experience to having a fireball shoot down my throat.  Not something I would consider pleasant, but, hey.

Meanwhile, the rest of the station mall was still the zombie mall.

We found this kind of awkward Engrish on top of a fish tank.  Yay?

So that was our day.

I probably could have done more fieldwork today.  Well, actually, I definitely could have done more fieldwork today. I also could have done more fieldwork yesterday.  I could have not slept at all.  But I feel like that would have been a pretty miserable way to spend New Year's.  I got in a good 4 hours of fieldwork today, which I think is pretty good, considering that I have people visiting me (and if I had done the maximum possible amount of fieldwork, it would have involved either making them walk really far differences and then stand off alone while I ran around like a maniac or just leaving them alone for today).  And now I'm so exhausted that I want to just collapse into bed and sleep forever, but I have to wait for my dryer to finish ugh.  Why do Japanese dryers take SO LONG?
Anyway, happy New Year, everybody.  良いお年を。

*It's rung 108 times to signify the cleansing of the 108 sins of humanity.

**Souls of aborted, miscarriaged, and stillborn fetuses.

***I've heard way too many horror stories about waiting in line for three or four hours just to pray.

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