Ômisoka&Gantan 大晦日&元旦

Just like last year, this year I spent Ômisoka (December 31) and Gantan (January 1) at Somemaru’s house. This is a very busy, but very enjoyable time of the year.

One reason I like New Year (Oshôgatsu) in Japan is that it is a time of togetherness for most families. It is the one time of year when the majority of stores close and people are able to focus on things other than work and the commercial world outside their doors. This is also a time when a good deal of the country flocks to local temples and shrines for New Year’s blessings, buying amulets for any number of things, such as commuter safety, help finding true love, having successful childbirth, passing high school and college entrance exams, and so on.

One soon learns that Japanese people (or at least NHK) take Oshôgatsu seriously when they observe the way the wildly popular annual music program Kôhaku uta gassen comes to a sudden, anticlimactic end at Countdown: 10, 9. 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… CUT TO QUIET, SOLEMN SHOTS OF TEMPLES AROUND THE NATION.

Ômisoka and Gantan at Somemaru’s are not exactly solemn, but he does adhere to old customs as far as food (osechi) preparation and ceremonial sake (otoso) pouring goes. Pupils in training and children receive money gifts (otoshidama), and the list of customs followed goes on. Again, togetherness is key. This is the best thing about the holiday.

On Ômisoka I spent the entire day assisting Somemaru with osechi preparation, making enough food for about 40 people. Somemaru does all the cooking himself, working all day in the kitchen, hardly taking a break. Actually, I had to remind him to take a break from time to time. On one of our breaks we enjoyed toshikoshi soba, long buckwheat noodles, an Ômisoka must.

I went home late and returned early the next morning to help with more preparations before Somemaru’s pupils began arriving with their wives and children.

Soon everybody had arrived and the New Year’s banquet was underway. I helped by making sure food and drinks never ran out, and washed a great deal of dishes. Of course I was also allowed to partake in the delicious food and drinks. All of this was wonderful, and the banquet felt like a huge family gathering. Indeed, everybody had a fabulous time, starting off the New Year in grand fashion. I especially enjoyed playing with the children, two of them promising to return to America with me.

The festivities lasted well into the night. I stayed until the end to help clean up, getting home just before midnight. When I looked in the mirror, I realized I still had a smile on my face.

I have a feeling the Year of the Dragon is going to be a special year.



9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 . . . 全国の静かで厳粛たる寺々のカット。






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