Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Year’s Day with relatives

New Year (shogatsu) is considered to be one of the most important annual festivals in Japan and has been celebrated for centuries with many unique customs. Most of the government, public, and private sector business organizations are shut down typically from December 31 to January 03. Families usually gather to spend the days together during this festival season. Hubby and I had been to hubby’s ancestral home (jikka) in Ichinomiya city of Aichi prefecture for two days. We left our home on 31st December at 10.30 am and reached Akita Airport after about 45 minutes of car drive. Our flight to Komaki Airport in Aichi prefecture was at 12.45 pm. We still had a lot of time, so we had lunch at a restaurant and bought a few souvenirs for relatives from a kiosk at Akita Airport. It was snowing heavily in Akita and was extremely windy. In Aichi prefecture also it was very windy that day. Due to the bad weather, the plane was shaking terribly during the entire one-hour flight and I felt very sick. Hubby was ready with airsickness bag but somehow I could control myself. It was one of my worst flight experiences so far. I usually do not feel airsick but the turbulence was really bad this time. My father-in-law was waiting for us at Komaki Airport. He gave hubby and me a ride to his home in Ichinomiya city. We reached hubby’s jikka at about 3.30 pm and took rest for an hour or so. I was fine after taking rest.

In the evening father-in-law, his wife, hubby, and I had dinner at a nearby grilled meat restaurant named Yakiniku Ishida. Hubby’s sister and her family also accompanied us. We ordered several kinds of prepared raw beef, which we cooked on a gas grill built into the table. It was fun to grill several pieces of meat at a time and dip it in a sauce called tare and eat. We grilled meat throughout the duration of the meal. We also had grilled horumon which is a type of Japanese cuisine made from beef or pork offal. In addition, we had several kinds of salads, soups, and rice. The dinner was very filling and satisfying. My sister-in-law’s younger daughter was very happy after the dinner and ran around merrily inside the restaurant. We returned home at about 8 pm and retired for the day. Hubby woke me up at midnight to wish a Happy New Year!
Cooking beef pieces on a gas grill

Father-in-law and his wife enjoying dinner

Sister-in-law and family enjoying dinner

Hubby having dinner

Younger niece after the dinner

January 1st is a very auspicious day, and is best started by viewing the first sunrise (hatsuhinode) of the New Year, which is traditionally believed to be representative for the whole year that has just commenced. So awakening before sunrise is considered important to view the first sunrise of the year. However it snowed heavily in Ichinomiya and the surrounding area around Nagoya, and we had to be satisfied watching the beautiful white flakes of snow falling in the garden. We all watched television networks broadcasting live the first sunrise breaking at various locations in Japan. In fact early in the morning of the New Year’s Day, hubby, father-in-law, and his wife were supposed to go for playing golf. But the play was cancelled due to heavy snow.
Garden of hubby’s ancestral home

Garden of hubby’s ancestral home

Food served during the New Year's celebration tends to be special. People eat osechi-ryori ceremonial food which consists of boiled seaweed, fish cakes, mashed sweet potato with chestnut, simmered burdock root, and sweetened black soybeans. There are many variations of osechi-ryori. Another popular traditional New Year's dish is a soup called ozoni prepared with mochi and other ingredients that differ based on various regions of Japan. It is said that ozoni finds its roots in samurai society cuisine. We had ozoni soup for breakfast. We made a clear soup flavored with dashi stock made from flakes of dried bonito and soy sauce. We added mochi and a lot of leafy vegetables like spinach and used dried bonito flakes as topping. The soup was simple and delicious. We enjoyed the hot ozoni soup while watching the snowfall outside. We also had tamagoyaki along with ozoni soup.
Mochi cut into rectangles and round shape

Ozoni soup and tamagoyaki

The first few days of the New Year are also a time to visit various relatives and pay our respects to them. After the breakfast, we visited my father-in-law’s two elder brothers and their families who stay very close to father-in-law’s home. We paid our respects to hubby’s uncles and their wives and gave them the souvenirs we bought from Akita. It was nice to talk with hubby’s relatives.
Father-in-law’s eldest brother and his wife

Home of father-in-law’s elder brother

Wife of father-in-law’s elder brother, father-in-law’s wife, and I

Father-in-law, his elder brother, elder brother’s son, and hubby

Another tradition during the New Year is to visit a shrine or temple. This first trip to a shrine or temple is known as hatsumode. Hatsumode festivities are held at practically every shrine and temple across the country. People often visit a shrine after midnight on December 31 or sometime during the day on January 01. After visiting our relatives, we went to two shrines. First we visited a local small shrine named Shimei-sha located very near to hubby’s jikka. The exact origin of the shrine is not known. However, the name of the shrine suggests that the sun goddess Amaterasu-omikami is the principal deity of the shrine, who is said to be directly linked in lineage to the Imperial Household of Japan and the Emperor. At the shrine, we prayed for the well being of our family.
Shinmei-sha shrine

Me praying at shinmei-sha shrine

Burning amulets from the previous year

Father-in-law and his wife inside the shrine premises

Next we visited Inu jinja shrine located in Nishi ward of Nagoya city. We went to Inu jinja by father-in-law’s car and it took us about an hour to reach this shrine from Ichinomiya. Inu jinja shrine is dedicated to three deities. Susano-no-mikoto, the main deity of the shrine, is associated with safety at home and also for repelling bad luck and unhappiness. The second deity of the shrine, Otoshi-no-kami, is famous as the god of business and is also worshipped as the god of agriculture. The third deity, Inuhime-no-kami, is associated with safe delivery during childbirth and also for good health of children. It is said that in the year 673 Emperor Temmu came and harvested rice in the area surrounding the shrine. It is believed that the shrine came into existence around that time. It is also believed to be the origin of the name of the area ‘Ino-cho’. Since the name of the shrine is Inu jinja, this shrine is very famous amongst people having dogs as pets or dog lovers. This is because the Japanese word for dog is ‘inu’. However, it is just the phonetic pronunciation of ‘inu’ that is similar, and actually the kanji character for dog is different than that of this shrine.

We reached Inu jinja shrine at about 1.20 pm. After parking our car, we walked for about five minutes and reached the main torii gate of the shrine. This shrine is a well known local shrine and there was a big crowd doing hatsumode. We joined the crowd and stood in a queue near the main torii gate at about 1.30 pm, and it took us almost an hour to reach the shrine altar. There was a festival atmosphere with a few food stalls and people making wishes and purchasing lucky charms for a fortunate year. Father-in-law and his wife felt rather cold and uncomfortable waiting in the queue in an extremely chilly weather condition. So hubby bought a box of freshly fried kushikastu and hot (almost boiling) one-cup-ozeki sake from a food stall, and father-in-law and his wife had these while waiting in the queue. The hot sake was really a relief for them.
Main entrance gate of Inu jinja shrine

A long queue of worshippers

The queue of worshippers in the shrine moved rather slowly. It took us about 20 minutes to reach a bright vermilion colored torii gate of another shrine named Tamanushi Inari shrine, which is located inside the premises of Inu jinja shrine. However, we did not visit this shrine as there was a long queue of worshippers in front of this shrine also. After about 15 more minutes, we reached a wooden gate-like structure where a map of the shrine premises is displayed. Beyond this wooden gate is the main altar of the shrine (honsha) and the surrounding area. Towards the left hand side of the main altar, there is a building named juyosho which is an office/shop selling amulets (omamori), emblems, and other items. To the right hand side of the main altar, there is another building named emaden. A gallery of votive ema is displayed in emaden building. Ema are small wooden plaques on which worshippers write their prayers or wishes, which are then left hanging up inside emaden where the gods are supposed to receive them. Common wishes are for success in work or in exams, marital bliss, to have children, and health. These plaques often bear the picture of the zodiac animal. While waiting in the queue, we took several photos of the main altar and the surrounding area. A stone-carved guardian dog named inu-no-sekizou is displayed in front of the main altar of the shrine. This guardian dog is associated with safe delivery during childbirth. A kadomatsu was also displayed in front of the main altar. A kadomatsu is a traditional decoration of the New Year placed in front of homes/shrines/offices to welcome ancestral spirits or god of the harvest.
Vermilion torii gate of Tamanushi Inari shrine

Map of shrine premises at a wooden gate-like structure

Shrine premises

Main altar and surrounding area

Juyosho building selling amulets

Emaden building displaying a huge plaque bearing the picture of tiger

Hubby standing in front of the main altar

Stone-carved guardian dog


Finally after about an hour, we reached the main altar of the shrine. We offered money into the offertory box, pulled the rope attached to the bell hanging from the rafter in front of the box, and then clapped our hands and prayed. I prayed for the well being of my family as well as friends.
Bell of main altar

Me ringing the bell of main altar

After offering our prayers, we went to omikuji fortune stall at the juyosho building. I was rather eager to know my fortune. So after paying a small sum to draw the fortune, I shook a box containing bamboo sticks with numbers until the tip of a stick with a number poked its way through the hole at the top of the box. A shrine staff looked at the number and then gave me a slip of paper corresponding to the number on the stick. The slip of paper showed ‘normal luck and fortune’. Later hubby tied this strip of paper to a branch of a tree next to the stall. At juyosho building, we also bought various kinds of omamori amulets for good health and driving safety. We also bought an eto-hamaya, which is a decorative arrow and has ema plaque with this year’s zodiac animal ‘tiger’ drawn on it. Hamaya decorative arrow is supposed to destroy evil spirits, ward off misfortune, and attract good luck. Hamaya can be purchased at any shrine during the New Year’s time. A fire was burning inside the shrine premises and people burned their old charms from the previous year in the fire. Along with many amulets, we saw an old notebook computer burning in the raging fire!! My father-in-law and his wife warmed their hands in front of the fire.
Me trying omikuji fortune

Hubby tying the fortune paper to a tree

Eto-hamaya and various kinds of omamori amulets

Me standing next to the statue of guardian dog

Father-in-law and his wife warming their hands

We stayed in the shrine premises for some more time and then walked back to the car parking area. A shrine attendant came running after us and told my father-in-law to wait for some time as the head priest of the shrine wished to meet him. The head priest and father-in-law are very good friends and often meet in the evenings to play a game of Mahjong. After about 10 minutes of waiting at the car parking area, the head priest came and wished all of us. Later he invited us for a cup of hot green tea and took us to his office located in one of the buildings in the shrine premises. There was a stove heater and the room was very warm. It was really comfortable and we chatted with the head priest for about half an hour. Before leaving the shrine premises, we thanked the head priest for hot cups of green tea and his generosity. While returning home, hubby drove the car and we reached back Ichinomiya at about 4 pm. Hubby and I packed our baggage and took rest for about an hour.
Father-in-law chatting with head priest

We standing with head priest

Father-in-law and his wife warming their hands and feet in front of a stove heater

Head priest and hubby

At about 5.30 pm hubby and I put our baggage in father-in-law’s car, and then four of us went for dinner to a sushi restaurant named Futazushi located in Ichinomiya city itself. We had sashimi of Fugu fish (pufferfish) served with ponzu dipping sauce. Fugu fish contains deadly poison in its organs, which can lead to instantaneous death of diners. Therefore, only licensed cooks with special skills and knowledge about fugu are allowed to prepare fugu dishes. Fugu sashimi was sliced so thinly that the pattern of the plate could be seen through the meat. The sashimi in the plate was decorated in the form of a chrysanthemum flower which is symbolic of death in Japanese culture. It was the first time that I had fugu and I was rather nervous initially. However all others were thoroughly enjoying the dinner, so I relaxed gradually and had a great experience eating fugu sashimi. We also had a dish made from boiled skin of fugu. In addition, we had teriyaki fish and a plateful of fresh sushi. The dinner was exciting and fun.
Fugu sashimi and a dish made from the boiled skin of fugu

Sushi and teriyaki fish

Father-in-law and his wife having dinner

Hubby having dinner

At about 8.15 pm we left Futazushi restaurant, and my father-in-law dropped hubby and me off at Ichinomiya railway station. After saying good bye to father-in-law and his wife, we took a train bound for Nagoya. It took about 15 minutes to reach Nagoya. At Nagoya, we boarded Tokaido Shinkansen train to go to Shin-Osaka. The train reached Shin-Osaka railway station at about 10.30 pm. After coming out of the station, we went to hotel Toyoko-Inn which is located very close to the railway station. We checked-in at this hotel for three nights. Hubby was rather tired and he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. The next two days we did sightseeing in Osaka about which I will write in the next few posts.
Hubby sleeping at the hotel room


Chinoos said...

Manish good job.Nice peice of writing with all description of New year events and ur activities...As always i enjoyed reading this blog too

chts99 said...

Manisha di.. really enjoyed your writing of new year celebration..Ratna..

guitarotoko said...

very,very interesting Manisha.
i enjoyed very much all the post,
especialy about the shrines...did you remember to pray for us??
Omamori!!!i want it!!do you now where i can buy it here in Rome?
pls help me...what's the name of the zig-zag shaped-paper around the koimanu's neck?
about the fugu...must to be very good...but what happen if the cook make a mistaken?the japan's sea is full of every kind of fish!why to eat a poison fish? :-)))


Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks Chithra (Chinoos)for your comment. In fact there are many more celebrations during the New Year. But we stayed only for two days at hubby's ancestral home so could follow only a few of them.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks Ratna for you very nice comment :) I feel happy that you enjoyed reading about New Year celebrations in Japan.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks guitarotoko for your comment. Yeah, I remembered very well to pray for friends, especially for you and your wife Monika!

I am not sure whether you can find omamori in Rome ...

The zig zag shaped papers around the neck of komainu is known as gohei or shide.

Well, regarding fugu fish.... I am a foreigner and feel exactly the same way as you...With so many variety of delicious fishes around, why eat poisonous fugu? But I guess for Japanese people, it is just another dish! Anyway, only specially licensed chef are allowed to prepare fugu dishes, so it is safe to eat. But I was rather nervous to eat it as it was my first time to eat fugu.

google said...

as usual, food looks yum yum...

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks google for your comment. Yeah, the food was delicious!