Okotohajime 御事始

Last year at this time I wrote about (0)kotohajime. It’s hard to believe a year has already passed since then. But here we are.

Kotohajime takes place on December 13 in the Kamigata area (Dec. 8 in Tokyo) and is the day when preparations for the New Year formally begin. In the world of arts that are “practiced,” (keikogoto), members of artistic families often pay a formal visit to their master on this day, bringing with them a present of kagamimochi, usually eaten in a zenzai sweet bean dish on the eleventh day of the New Year.

Kotohajime is a is a day-long event at Somemaru’s house, combined with morning ôsôji, a deep cleaning of his house, and a banquet that lasts into the evening.

Today I arrived at Somemaru’s house at 10 a.m., an hour before everybody else, to have breakfast and help with preparations. Somemaru’s many pupils began showing up one by one at 11 a.m. Everybody came with a gift, presented it to him, bowed deeply, and thanked him for the previous year, also asking him for his generous favors in the year to come.

After the morning greetings were made, straws were drawn Japanese-style to determine everybody’s cleaning duties. This year I landed on the front door area (genkan do). This is a pretty easy job compared to, say, cleaning the bathroom, so I was also asked to tend to the garden outside. Everybody cleaned the house in good spirits, laughing and carrying on.

Of course, with so many pupils, the cleaning goes fast. As I helped, I thought about the importance of everyone being here for ôsôji. Taking care of Somemaru in such a way is one way of performing ongaeshi, paying back one’s personal debts.

Every bit of work that we did today are things Somemaru won’t have to do himself. Personally, it made me feel good that I could be there to show my respect and gratitude for all he’s done for me over the past year. I am still in his debt, as are all of his formal pupils, but us being there for ôsôji helps show Somemaru that we haven’t forgotten our debts to him.

Soon we were done cleaning and it was time to change out of our work clothes and into our suits for kotohajime. Somemaru was helped into his kimono.

Everybody sat Japanese-style before Somemaru, in order of seniority. One by one, we reflected on the year (hansei) and proposed how we might make the coming year better. This is a highly formal event, but humor is permitted at  times too. Depending on the pupil, Somemaru offered heartfelt advice, or critique.

As usual, he presented each pupil with a gift, something they will have use for as they work in the coming year. Last year he presented folding fans, this year we received shikigami, (mats on which to fold kimono, so they won’t get dirty).

After kotohajime proper, we had a great banquet, with delicious sushi and other foods, and of course plenty of alcoholic drinks. It was great fun to enjoy the time with Somemaru’s artistic family.

I stayed a couple hours after everyone left, to clean up, and relax a bit with Somemaru.

It was a busy day, but it went by incredibly fast, just like the year.

Thank you for including me in kotohajime Somemaru shishô.













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