Last year we abandoned Japan during the largest holiday of the year, New Years, in search of a more tropical place to spend our holidays. This year we decided to stay put to take part in the festivities of a traditional Japanese New Year. I say that we decided to stay put, but actually this was largely decided for us because of the little person happily growing inside of me making long travels to exotic places a non-option. Even though I would have loved to spend the holiday in a slightly warmer place, I am so glad that we ended up spending New Years the way we did and I think that this year will easily remain in my memory as one of my favorite New Years for many years to come.
The best part of the New Year was visiting a small temple with a very dear Japanese friend of ours, Tanaka. He is friends with the monk that cares for the temple, and thought it would be a good place for us to experience a traditional Japanese New Year.
After spending the night at Tanaka’s house eating traditional foods and watching the NHK New Years broadcast (very similar to the one in New York, although this one ends a bit before the turn of the clock to give families the chance to ring in the New Year together and make their way to a local temple), we got in the car to drive to a small temple about 15 minutes from his house.
At the temple there were two small campfires going to keep people warm around the large temple bell. Starting about twenty minutes before midnight the monk began ringing the bell. Over the course of the next 30-45 minutes the bell would be rung 108 times. One time for each of the 108 worldly desires. By ringing the bell, people can cast out those worldly desires making way for them to reach enlightenment. Anyone who wanted to ring the bell, could take a chance and there was a wide variety of people that came to do so. There were high school students, a law student, many older women from the neighborhood and other passerbys. Aaron and I, along with the few high school students that were there, did the majority of the ringing. Aaron alone rang the bell 10 times and I did it 6.
The most amazing thing about the whole experience though was listening to the sounds. Not only could we hear the deep tones of the bell from our temple, we could also hear at least 4 other bells ringing in the distance. There was something oddly peaceful and soothing knowing that all over the country, the vast majority of people in Japan were doing the very same thing that we were at that very same moment. They were gathered at a local place of worship, either ringing the bell themselves or simply sitting back and letting the sound fill them for the new year.
Everyone was so captivated by the sound of the bell and the flickers coming from the fire that no one seemed to even notice (or care) that the New Year had already come to pass. About six minutes into 2009 I happened to look at my watch. I quietly whispered Happy New Year to Aaron and everyone else around me.
Once the ringing had stopped, we went over to the temple to say our first prayers for the New Year. Coincidentally, the temple we visited was dedicated to small children, especially after our unexpected visit to the doctor earlier in the evening it felt as though we were just meant to be there at that very moment. It felt so good to have been reassured by the doctor and the ultrasound that all was well for Little R and it felt even better to be able to say a little prayer to help ensure that it continues that way for the next three months.
We hope that your New Year celebration was filled with peace and joy, as ours was. And we hope that everyone has a very happy and fulfilling 2009!