Thursday, 15 January 2015

お正月 in 熊本 Continued

There is a lot that I want to share with you and the many customs of the New Years' time in Japan are rich with tradition. As I said in my previous post, there are far too many to share in this format, but I would like to tell you as much as I can about how I have spent the New Year here in Kumamoto for a little over a decade. I would like to continue this post where I left off, with 初詣 Hatsu Moude, the First Visit to a Shrine or Temple. I have visited 小国神社 Oguni Jinjya, Oguni Shrine almost every year on January 1st since 2002. Please let me share with you how my family started our year.

(My Daughter, Son, and I Hatsu Moude at Oguni Shrine, Jan. 1st, 2015)

初詣 (Hatdsu Moude)
As I said, I am not religious and have no ties to anything in particular, but since I started going to Oguni for the New Year's holiday, I have visited Oguni Jinjya on January 1st for Hatsu Moude with my wife and this year was my Son's first New Year's visit. We never stay long. We make a wish, buy some おみくじ Omikuji, Fortune Slips, and お守り Omamori, Good luck Charms or Talisman, then we return home. There is nothing particularly ceremonial about how we do this other than we must wash our hands and mouth at the fountain in front of the shrine before entering. Although it is not ceremonial, there is an order that we have followed every year. Let me share it with you now.

(Chou Zu Ya, Kagoshima, Japan, 2014)
手水舎 (Chou Zu Ya)
Every Shino Shrine in Japan has a 手水舎 Chou Zu Ya, a special fountain or pool of fresh running water near the entrance designated for cleaning our hands and mouths before proceeding to the shrine. (See the photo above) To the best of my knowledge this is there simply to cleanse the body so that when we enter the grounds of the shrine we can do so with pure intentions. Cleaning our hands that we use to touch things with and our mouths which we use to communicate our thoughts, for me, holds a particularly powerful meaning and I always make it a point to perform this cleaning action. I do have to tell you, though, this year's Hatasu Moude was extremely cold and it was difficult to take off our gloves and pour cold water over them, but as you can see in the photo above, we all did it. After we clean our hands and mouth we enter through the main entrance and make our way to the shrine. In front of the shrine there is a large bell and rope. We throw ¥100 One Hundred Yen into a wooden box beneath the bell and ring it by shaking the rope back and forth. The sound it makes is very unique, unlike any bell I have ever heard before or since. We then clap our hands together two times and bow our heads and make a wish. It is said that the wish you make on Hatsu Moude should not be a wish for personal success but rather for the health, happiness, or success of others. I always wish for the health and happiness of my family.

 (A sign telling you the proper procedure for washing your Mouth and Hands)
(See the video attachment to hear the sound of the bell)
The O Mikuji is like a kind of guide that gives us advice on how to proceed through the year ahead. It gives us advice on work, health, and relationships. I can tell you that, in my experience, they have been surprisingly accurate and I have received some pretty good advice over the years from these little slips of paper. (See photo below right, my O Mikuji, 2015)

After we finish reading the advice we tie them on a branch of a tree or a rope designated for this at the shrine. We do not take them home with us, but depending upon the kind of O Mikuji you buy, they usually have a little good luck charm inside that you can take and keep with you throughout the year. (See the photo below, our O Mikuji together tied on the rope in front of the tree at Oguni Shrine.) 

お滝行 (O Taki Gyou)
As I stated earlier, a lot of the customs during O Shou Gatsu are directly related to purification and starting the New Year fresh and with a clean slate. The next New Year's tradition that I would like to share with you is the お 滝行 O Taki Gyou, the first character is Waterfall and the second character is the same Gyou used in 修行 Shu Gyou as discussed in the post where we looked at the Chito-Ryu Showa. I have taken part in every Taki Gyou since I moved to Kumamoto in 2001. My first Taki Gyou expereience was, therefore, on January 3rd, 2002 (See photo below).

   (Youseikan Honbu Dojo O Taki Gyou 2002, my first O Taki Gyou experience)

 I have not missed a year yet and don't plan on missing any in the future. The experience is hard to describe, it is very rewarding on a personal and spiritual level. In order to understand this on a deeper level one must first understand the meaning of Shu Gyou. (Something that is far too complex for this blog post. However, I do hope to address this in a future post) in this case, as in many cases, the best teacher is experience. I strongly suggest for anyone interested to make the effort to experience O Taki Gyou at least once in Japan, I am confident that it will have a profound impact on your training. Below is a photo taken from this Year's O Taki Gyou.

(Youseikan Honbu Dojo O Taki Gyou, 2015)

This year was an especially fulfilling experience for me because of the energy produced by those involved. I am always grateful to be included in these events. Private training in Japan can be a very fulfilling experience because of the setting but, for me, training with others whom I respect and care for takes the experience to a whole other level and I can become aware of so much more than if I were training alone. The time spent under the running water is a very personal experience, but the entire day before and after that time under the running water brings so many things into perspective for me and sets me on the proper course for me each year.


     (Taken during my time in the water, 2015)
3,333 段 (3,333 Dan)
For the first three years of my time here in Kumamoto a small group of the members from the Taki Gyou made it a point to travel to Chuo Machi, about a one hour drive outside of Kumamoto, to the 3,333 steps which I mentioned in a previous post. (See 余裕 'Yoyu' in Our Training and in Our Life) Unfortunately, due to busy schedules and a lack of time this event got sidetracked. It has been about ten years since we made the journey to the steps and this year it was decided that we would once again resume this tradition. 3 of us got in my car and made the trip to the foot of the steps that wind up the mountain. After parking the car we set out up the steps which kind of resemble the journey of life itself.

This year Greg Brown Sensei, Mark Snow Sensei, and I climbed the steps together. We met many people along the way even some people I knew. The conversation and the reflection during this excursion will stay with me throughout the year and I know that the insight shared will make itself known when necessary to help me take the steps I need to take in order to succeed this year just as the times in the past have done before.

(Greg Brown, the Author, Mark Snow, Jan. 3rd, 2015)

The photo to the right is of our first step going up. Notice that one of us is wearing sandals. A lot of people along the way up and down noticed this fact and it was the topic of numerous conversations. Traditional Japanese sandals are called 雪駄 Setta and we could hear a lot of people gasping as they noticed especially the closer we got to the top!

The air was crisp and some snow had accumulated making the steps quite slippery. But, we made it to the top in about an hour. We took our time and enjoyed the fresh air, beautiful scenery, and engaging conversation. We started on the first step together as seen in the photo above and made it a point to complete the ascend in the same fashion. Notice in the photo below that there are a few more feet than when we started.

 Each year we are fortunate to meet new people and experience new things but it is our customs and traditions that ground us. Like the 基本 Kihon we practice every day, they strengthen our base. In recent years I have noticed more and more how Karate Do mirrors life and the life we live affects our Karate Do training. This year, personally, I want to make the most of every experience so that I can learn and grow with every twist and turn that comes along as I journey down this path which is the 道 Michi of my life; 空手道 Karate Do.

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