Decorating New Year…

Finally, my body clock is tuned in to the UK time!
I am no longer waking up at odd hours and feeling like a zombie in the afternoon. But how do cabin crews on international flight cope with this jet lag business, I have no idea. It must be tough on their system…

Prior to New Year’s Day, I was walking around Zenkō-ji almost on a daily basis. Last time I was here was in the early spring of 2012. Anyone who observes contemporary Japan closely will agree with me that during two years, a lot can happen in this island, even in a relatively quiet place like Nagano. Some old shops go out of business while new enterprises take roots or new buildings emerge while old ones get demolished and make way for parking lots, etc…
Still fresh from the excitement of arriving at Nagano, I armed myself with layers of thermals & a brand new iPod Touch, and set out to investigate what change the past two years had brought to around Zenkō-ji…

Contrary to my expectation – I thought the town must be buzzing with preparation for New Year celebration, most of the shops were on holiday already…

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Each shop front with a polite holiday notice was adorned with a colourful New Year’s decoration.

The most prominent decoration of the Japanese New Year has to be a kadomatsu (門松) – gate pine…

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This “face” of the Japanese New Year is made from three large bamboo shoots in different length and they are bound with a straw mat a woven straw rope. My photo shows only one but it is to be placed in pairs, representing male and female, in front of houses or business premises. Their are invitation to ancestral spirits or toshigami (deity), who will bring a bountiful harvest for farmers, prosperity to business and bestow the ancestors’ blessing on everyone. As soon as highly commercial Japanese Christmas season is over, Santas, trees, cherubs, and poinsettia are replaced by traditional New Year’s decorations. They are on display until around the 15th January. Once the period is over, spent decorations are donated to local shrines or temples and burnt in huge bonfires called Dondo-yaki (どんど焼き), for the purpose of releasing gods to heaven.

The east meets the west. A sign for a cream cake stands next to a kadomatsu…

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Similar to a typical tradition of ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement), the different height of each bamboo shoot represents heaven, humanity, and earth. And bamboo is renowned for its fast growth – the shoot grows more than 5 ft high in a few days, symbolises vitality and vigour.

Pine is also a typical material to be used for New Year decorations…

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Evergreen plant pine is believed to house deity.

Another popular plant around the New Year period is Nanten (南天) – Nandina domestica aka. Heavenly Bamboo…

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Old-fashioned postbox in Nanten-red…

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Men were busy preparing roadside pines for a heavy snowfall…

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Nagano’s short afternoon sun was setting and I decided to head home for a hot cup of tea with mum…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

New Year Day @ Zenkō-ji

On the afternoon of New Year’s Day, Mum & I agreed that we were in need of some fresh air, therefore, we donned warm clothing and sauntered to Zenkō-ji.
On the way, I saw a pair of huge trees standing, assisted by steel supports at Yubuku Shrine. Mum explained to me how the trees were struck by lightning one summer and the impact was felt even by her at home 10 minutes walk away from the shrine. The trees had to be trimmed in order to make them safe. Just imagining from the size of the remaining trunks, they must have been gigantic trees…

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We arrived at Zenkō-ji and found the promenade choking with worshippers…

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The orderly crowd was waiting in queue to enter Hondō shrine. However the queue was stretched as far as Sanmon Gate and beyond…

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Within the temple compound, kiosks selling talismans and fortune slips were everywhere…

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They came in various forms. Arrows for warding off evil spirit and bamboo rakes for gathering fortune…

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The staffs seemed very busy, being called up from all directions…

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Next to the kiosk, I came across this dog looking thoroughly bored. He / she stood there with the air of resignation while its owners hotly disputing what charm they should buy in order to improve fortune this year…

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The area around the promenade closer to Hondō shrine was all blocked off as a part of crowd managements. So we were forced to walk around the boundary and join the Sando Promenade at the intersection…

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Though not as packed as around Hondō, the pavement was brimful of visitors…

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“Goheimochi” on sale…

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Goheimochi is made of mashed steamed sticky rice and miso paste. Mashed and hand-formed rice is skewered with a bamboo stick and grilled over the flame. Once cooked, sweetened miso paste is spread over the rice ball lollipop and sold as Japanese street food.
Mum & I wanted to try them but there was a long queue in front of the shop front so we gave up and walked on.

A couple in kimono…

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We reached Niōmon Gate and found crowds of people still pouring in towards Hondō…

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We realised that there would be no chance of finding any cafe for a mid-afternoon snack. So we headed back home.
On our way home, we came across this sight…

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A row of cars were queuing for a pay car park near the temple. How long did they would have to wait in their cars, we had no idea. From the amount of the visitors we saw at the temple, they would probably have to wait more than an hour. We hoped if they could make it to Hondō before it closed at 5 pm…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

A Happy New Year!!

The year 2014 is upon us!
Zenko-ji temple’s bell is ringing solemnly in the distance…

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Let’s hope 2014 will be even more prosperous for all of us…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

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