Before I get back to the previous theme of the health benefits of Karate Do practice let me first wish everyone reading this blog a very Happy New Year! I don't know about you, but 2014 was a very busy and productive year for me. It was a year full of personal successes on many levels from personal to professional. Reflecting on all that happened in 2014, I am very excited about 2015! According to the Chinese calendar 2014 was the year of the Horse. I was born in 1978 making me a horse. One of the most important things for me, that occurred last year, was the healthy birth of my first Son (a Horse, too. Now at 4 and a half Months he is built like a horse, too. He is almost 10 kilograms!)
(The Author with his Son, 賢志 Kenshi, December 31st, 2014)
In this post I would like to share with you how I usually start my year here in Kumamoto, Japan. Every year for New Year's お正月 O Shou Gatsu many people in Japan return to their hometowns to spend quality time with their family and close friends. Depending on work schedules the time spent can be very short, but everyone tries to make the most of it by catching up and starting the New Year fresh. Many Dojo and households are cleaned お掃除 O Souji before the new year so that the family can begin the New Year fresh in a clean house. For those of you who follow my Facebook page you will remember that I posted some photos of the O Souji at the Buntoku Dojo late last year.
(Buntoku Dojo Cleaning, December, 2014)
There are many traditions surrounding Japanese O Shou Gatsu and each family spends this special time doing many similar things however, each family is unique and therefore, there are many subtle differences. Therefore, in this blog I am only sharing the traditions that my family performs regularly each year. Think of this like a kind of case study of one Japanese family's New Year's traditions where I present the highlights to you in hopes that you can benefit from this snap shot of Japanese Culture in the context based on the customs that my Japanese family have shared with me.
Let me start by sharing my usual End of the Year 忘年 Bou Nen and New Year 新年 Shin Nen schedule before I go into detail of the individual customs and traditions.
Every year my family and I go to my wife's family's home in Oguni on either the 30th or 31st of December. My wife takes the children first and I usually follow after in separate cars because our schedules in the first few days of the New Year are quite different due to my involvement with Chito-Ryu and Koutairen Karate Do. We spend the first few days together before I return to Kumamoto on the 2nd of January. On the 3rd is the 養成館道場滝行 Youseikan Dojo Taki Gyou, The Annual Waterfall Training of the Yoseikan Dojo.
(Youseikan Dojo Takigyou, 2015)
For the past 7 years I have also been fortunate enough to take part in the 桃太郎杯 Momotarou Hai, A 3 day invitational Karate Do competition and practice tournament for Senior High School athletes held in Okayama. This year 1500 athletes competed in this National level invitational championship.
Officially, work usually begins at Buntoku on either the 6th or 7th of January, but this week is always followed by a 3 day long weekend. During this long weekend is the Chito-Ryu Karate Do 新年講習会 Shin Nen Koushyu Kai, New Year's Training and 代表者会議 Daihyousha Kaigi, the National meeting of representatives for Chito-Ryu in Japan (a kind of Annual General Meeting).
It might not look like much on a list of things to do, but let me tell you, this schedule makes for a very busy start to each and every year that I have spent here in Kumamoto. More often than not there are special guests visiting from overseas at this time and although we cannot spend a great deal of time together, I try very hard to make the most of all of the time we have together. Spending this important time with family, close friends, and the Karate Ka whom I have grown up with is, after all, what the Japanese Oshou Gatsu is really all about. In my opinion, starting a new year fresh and with purpose makes all the difference in the rate of growth we can experience over the course of the year.
Now let me go into a little more detail as to what each of these things mean to me and the significance that they have for me.
Spending the quiet time in Oguni with my Japanese family
小国 Oguni, is just North of Kumamoto located in the mountains between Aso and Oita and it is a very beautiful, quiet, traditional place abundant with delicious food and 温泉 Onsen, Japanese Natural hots pring baths.
Over the years, this quiet time away from the fast pace of work and, perhaps more importantly this year than in years previous, away from the Internet, has become very important to me. Going to Oguni is a chance to get back in touch with nature and thanks to the kindness of my wife's family, I have learned many things about very important Japanese traditions and codes of conduct. I have to admit that in the early years I felt like I was being studied and every gesture, facial expression, and word I spoke was being recorded of analysis and private discussion. But, in more recent years, I really feel like part of the family.
In the early years, shortly after marrying my wife I was basically type casted in the role of guest and spent a lot of time in the 畳部屋 Tatami Beya, Tatami Room. During this time I would offer to help out with various things but, these offers were always refused or dismissed and I ended up doing a lot of reading or going for runs in the mountains in stead of joining the family in their chores. This year, however, I was asked to clean the 神棚 Kamidana, Family Alter. (I talked about this in previous posts on Dojo Layout)
There is a very specific way to arrange the things on the alter and each and every item has a specific and important meaning which may vary depending on family beliefs. I was honoured and a little bit nervous, but very happy, to clean and replace the things on the Kamidana and 仏壇 Butsu Dan in the family home in Oguni this year. Here is a description taken from Wikipedia to help me explain quickly some of the things that can be found on the Kamidana. (it is considered taboo to take photos of the family Kamidana and Butsudan so I cannot include photos of my family's in this blog but, I can provide you with photos taken in the Dojo and from the internet to help you form an image of what I am talking about) Notice in the photos included below that there are many items surrounding the miniature shrines. Both of these photos were taken in Shinto Shrines, the one on the bottom right also includes the Kagami Mochi.
Kamidana (神棚, kami-dana, lit. "god-shelf") are miniature household altars provided to enshrine a Shinto kami. They are most commonly found in Japan, the home of kami worship.
The kamidana is typically placed high on a wall and contains a wide variety of items related to Shinto-style ceremonies, the most prominent of which is the shintai, an object meant to house a chosen kami, thus giving it a physical form to allow worship. Kamidana shintai are most commonly small circular mirrors, though they can also be stones (magatama), jewels, or some other object with largely symbolic value. The kami within the shintai is often the deity of the local shrine or one particular to the house owner's profession. A part of the kami (bunrei) was obtained specifically for that purpose from a shrine through a process called kanjō.
Worship at the kamidana typically consists of the offering of simple prayers, food (e.g., rice, fruit, water) and flowers. Before worshipping at the kamidana it is ritually important for family members to cleanse their hands.
We place 鏡餅 Kagami Mochi and some other items that are traditionally prepared for the New Year such as a special 酒 Sake, Rice Wine and おぞに Ozoni a traditional soup made with mochi and vegetables as an offering to the 神 kami, Japanese Shinto gods who watch over the house. Below is a photo taken from the internet that resembles our family Ozoni
(Ozoni, a traditional soup that is considered among the most auspicious of the New Years dishes)
Although I am not religious and have no ties to one methodology or another, I do feel that our thoughts, feelings, and actions create specific outcomes and would like to think that the things I thought, felt, and did while I was cleaning and placing each item on the family's Kamidana will lead to some positive outcomes that will hopefully send ripples outward this year to my family and friends helping them achieve their goals. Next I would like to talk about 初詣 Hatsu Moude, the First Visit to a Temple or Shrine. I feel like this post is starting to become rather long so I would like to stop here and introduce my family's Hatsu Moude, Taki Gyou, and the Momtarou Hai in the next post.