Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Happy New Year!

Happy 2014 from Japan!

Okay, so a friend in Tennessee shamed me into updating our blog.  And, yes indeed, much time has passed since we've posted here.  Let's say that we were very busy studying during December, followed by RELAXING during our Christmas break!  Christmas Day was a lot of fun opening presents at home and talking via Skype with Leslie/Josiah and Stephanie/Ben.  They surprised us with a very, very large box fully packed with presents and candy-filled stockings.

Our tree basically took over the living room!

Surprise Christmas shipment from our adult girls and sons-in-law!

Our "double stockings" this year.

Heather tries on our new antlers.

Momma and her newest cardinal. Notice the "Frosty" fuzzy pants...

One Happy Dad, talking with Leslie and Josiah.

One crazy, newlywed couple!

At year-end, we celebrated New Year’s Day both American- and Japanese-style.  We didn’t attend any parties this year, but in true American fashion we stayed up until midnight playing board games with Jenna and Heather, hot cocoa in hand. 

The Settlers of Catan battle lasted till 1:00 a.m.

What we noticed around our neighborhood surprised us.  Tokyo, the largest (and arguably the busiest) metropolis in the world became a ghost town as residents fled the city for their hometowns in order to spend the holiday with their families.  We heard absolutely no street traffic outside our bedroom window, in contrast to the typical morning commute that begins before 6:00 a.m.

We have heard that New Year’s Day is the most important day of the year in Japan. To understand why, we visited a couple of religious sites to observe how the Japanese bring in the new year.  The Japanese visit nearby temples and shrines on New Year’s Day to beseech the gods for prosperity, good health and happiness.  Doesn’t this sound familiar?  After all, the American expression reads, “Health, Wealth and Happiness.”  I am convinced that these 3 wishes represent the deepest wishes of all mankind.

Very few people visited the shrine on New Year's Eve.

New Years' visitors ring the bells, bow and pray to the "Kami" spirits.

Stew and Lissa made two visits to a shrine and its neighboring temple.  We visited them on New Year’s Eve and again on New Year’s Day.  What a contrast!  A sparse crowd paid homage at the Shinto shrine on NYE, but wow, the line on New Year’s Day stretched for about a quarter mile, as though the shrine was offering free I-pads for all!  These residents waited up to 3 hours in line to perform a simple ritual that lasted at most, 15 seconds.

Patient pilgrims, blocks away from the shrine.

Our new friend and Shinto shrine guide.

This stooped "ojiisan" prayed to an image inside a Buddhist hall.

On both days, the Buddhist temple was virtually deserted, except for a couple of families who combined their Shinto shrine pilgrimage with a visit to tend to their ancestors’ graves.  This seemed perfectly appropriate since most Japanese carry out a thorough cleansing of their houses, businesses, and cars during the New Year holiday.

Not a person to be seen...except Lissa, that is.

Family tomb, freshly washed, incense burning.

Most families adorned their entrance gates with a specially designed collection of pine boughs, rice roping, bamboo leaves, and in some cases rice stalks with the grain still on it.  Families purchased these decorations at the shrine. I just might write another post, describing the spiritual symbolism of Shinto New Year practices, because the temple visits make a strong impression on these two Christian  missionaries.

1 comment:

  1. Great update! Thanks so much for taking the time to share these stories from your days in Japan and the photos! God bless you all!