Shimekazari, Kagami Mochi, Kadomatsu and the kami

I’ve finished my “Osouji” ….I think. Hubby left his end of the cleaning up until tomorrow. He elected to do ALL of the outside work this year, something I usually also manage to do. This year with me having been in the hospital and such he said “don’t do it-I’ll take care of it”. I don’t always listen but this year he said “don’t do it” firmly so…I listened this time.

I surveyed what needed to be done and it looks to be about 2 days of work. I know, I always do it…so…I’m guessing I’ll have to sneak out there and lend a hand or he will never get it all done tomorrow.  Tomorrow is the only day it can be done because we are busy Thursday. We’ll see. I don’t blame him though-he’s been helping his brother out with some important projects.

See…I’m not listening again. gah.

New Year is THE most important holiday here.

Everyone will be out in full force tomorrow- cleaning windows and yards, genkans and futon closets.

Osouji is more than just “spring cleaning”. It has religious / auspicious significance. Cleaning (煤払い すすはらい) susuharai or soot and dust was a ritual to show gratitude for the year’s harvest and all the blessings one received. It was/is also a purification ritual in getting ready for the new year to come and welcoming toshigami (New Year gods).

In the old days Osouji began on December 13th – shougatsu kotohajime-the day when New Year rituals began but, now a days most people don’t adhere to strict dates…. although where we live I can’t think of anyone that does not participate in Osouji. As a matter of fact my BIL has already given his staff leave so that everyone can go home and prepare for the upcoming holiday. December 31st is called o-misoka (おおみそか) and everything needs to be done before then.

Besides cleaning, the setting up of the seasonal decorations must be done.

mochi
Kagami mochi-traditional New year’s decoration.
Kagami Mochi is set up in the kitchen-usually on the kitchen shrine. We don’t have a kitchen shrine so I just set ours on the counter.

If you go to a hotel or a ryokan you may see them in the genkan. The above picture was taken at an onsen ryokan we stayed at two years ago. The kagami mochi was in the genkan.

You will see Kadomatsu-gateway pines- set outside the entrance to most businesses although I haven’t seen many at private homes around here.  Kadomatsu are made from bamboo and pine and are traditionally believed to be temporary homes for the kami (new year god). Arrangements may look differently depending upon the area of Japan.

The photo on the right (below) is a store-bought version of Kagami mochi and shimekazari. Shimekazari are hung on the genkan door.

Shimekazari-  a small rope made out of rice straw and usually decorated with shide or small pieces of zig-zag shaped white and orange paper. Sometimes just white paper.

Shimekazari come in all manner of sizes and décor. There are some really elaborate expensive ones and then you can get the cheap versions at your local Daiso. Each item on the shimekazari has an auspicious meaning. You might see some decorated with mikan (tangerine) which is considered a good omen. You also see kagami mochi decorated with a tangerine on top.

You might see Shimekazari decorated with lobster-which is a symbol of long life, pine a symbol of power and longevity and  fern leaves are symbols of hope and the desire to have a happy family. Each and every single decoration you see has an auspicious meaning. Nothing is placed randomly or just because it “looks nice”.   You can google shimekazari and see all manner or styles. I’ve even seen some on cars!

We have yet to get any decorations up! The gods of new year will be displeased with us if we don’t get a move-on…gah. I think hubby will go down to the local hardware / do it yourself place tomorrow and get ours. I leave all that up to him.

Next up…Osechi ryori when I continue!

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Osouji

souji

Found this awesome photo here.

It’s that time of year again. Time to move furniture, bring the hose, scrub brush and bucket into the genkan and scrub until everything shines. Time to get behind, under and on top of places that have been neglected for a while.

It is New Years cleaning time…Osouji…”big cleaning”.

Sunday after breakfast I began. I took down and packed up the Christmas tree and all the decorations and got that out of the way. Then it was time to roll up sleeves and get to work.

The most difficult thing is cleaning the genkan simply because it is so cold and my hands freeze in the water. For those that don’t know what a genkan is here are a few genkan photos-none of which are our genkan….


As you can see the genkan is a recessed entrance where you take off your shoes before entering the house. Many places require that you remove your shoes before entering-you’ll see slippers lined up for your use while visiting.

Our genkan has a getabako 下駄箱 or shoe cupboard. I moved that today and brought the hose round the side of the house so that I could really flush everything out well. The rolling door is made of metal and frosted glass-durable and quite “washable” with a scrub brush and a hose. I scrubbed down the front of the door too. It was nice to get that all done.

There is something nice about starting the New Year having thoroughly cleaned out the house. Tomorrow hubby attacks the outside. By Wednesday we will have everything cleaned, trash dumped and ready to ring in the New Year!

My hands are sore…time for a hot bath.

Christmas Day

Another Christmas come and gone. Seems we wait the whole year for Christmas. We put so much time and effort and planning into the holiday that’s over in a blink.

We had a lovely Christmas eve at our church.

Every pew was full and extra chairs had to be added. The service was lit by candlelight and it was just beautiful! After service there was a time of fellowship with food and games. We are so blessed to be a part of this church.

I went to Christmas morning communion service and hubby went to help his brother. After morning service, coffee and sweets I left on foot with my camera to see what there was to see around our little town.

I stopped by the town square and watched the pigeons for a while. It was cold today. The wind had quite a bite in it and not many people were out and about.

There is something that I just love about this town though. It’s quaint and rather dilapidated in many areas but gives me this feeling of “yester-year”.


I never tire of walking around and observing. I always have a story going around in my head. I should take a notebook with me sometimes and write my thoughts because, by the time I get home, and get going with whatever it is that needs to be done, the inspiration is gone.

The wind was cold so I figured I’d grab a cup of coffee and a sandwich at the train station café and then walk around in the arcade where it’s semi enclosed and not so windy.

The statue in front of the café is a famous sumo wrestler named Kaiō Hiroyuki. His mom and sister go to our church-very lovely ladies!

The arcade had a bit of traffic – not much, after all it’s Friday here and many people are working. It was nice to see some holiday cheer.

The arcade is old. Most towns in Japan have an arcade area. As I wrote before, during the old days the arcade was the place to go for shopping.

There are still some businesses hanging on and I hope they continue because I love coming down here and just wandering around. I wish the town would do something to encourage more people to open shops.

By around 3pm I started to make my way back home. We are having a little Christmas party at our home on Saturday evening and I had a few things to prepare.

Next week we get ready for Oshogatsu-Japanese New Year-which is one of my favorite Japanese holidays. Preparing for Oshogatsu is spent by spending a few days deep cleaning. That may sound like a complete “drag” but I actually love it.

While I’m cleaning I’m thinking about throwing out the “old” and getting ready for the new. I enjoy starting the New Year with a clean slate so to speak. I’ve got some yard work that I saved for the occasion because my house is always fairly clean. I’ll go through the house though and do my usual cleaning too.

We’ve also got to get to the store to buy our New Year’s decorations. I’ll take the Christmas tree down Tuesday or Wednesday. I don’t like having to do that after several days of celebrating the New Year. Oshogatsu is celebrated over several days and I’m usually really tired by the end of it. The last thing I want to do after the New Year holidays is spend several hours taking down my tree, packing all the ornaments and then cleaning up the mess that’s left over.

We don’t spend the holidays at home anyhow so it won’t matter that the tree is already packed away.

Well..it is 12:39 AM Saturday morning. The Christmas holidays are officially over for another year. Onward to 2016!

May the force be with you and your cabbages!

There is a big to-do now in Tokyo because of the showing of the Star Wars movie. It reminded me of a funny experience we had in HalloDay-a supermarket in our town.

My husband and I stopped by our local HalloDay to pick-up a few groceries. We were in there for about five minutes when suddenly and without warning we were knocked off our feet by what must have been concert sized speakers blasting the theme song from Star Wars.

I mean-it just about scared the false teeth out of every senior citizen in the store.
We were trying to choose the nicest head of cabbage when I thought that at any moment R2D2 was going to come rolling down the aisle.

We put down the head of cabbage we were examining and looked around. What on earth was going on? Was the cast of Star Wars here? Did aliens land in the parking lot? What??!

I can’t even describe to you how LOUD they played the music! The funny thing was that no one but us seemed to care! We were standing there completely bewildered by what was happening and everyone else was shopping as if they were deaf.

We had to literally shout to talk to each other! The entire thing was so ridiculous that I went a little wild. I started riding on the front of the shopping cart, you know, like kids do sometimes? They step up on the bottom bar and ride the cart for a ways. Well…the music just swept me away and I rode the cart down the asile…while my husband was holding his stomach laughing. Then I sort of “flew” down the aisle arms spread leaping a little.

Yes, I do realize that I may loose credibility by writing this post but I’m hoping you have a sense of humor. It was really that ridiculous.

We had absolutely no idea what was going on other than perhaps the store was trying to make “contact”.

My husband thought that it might be a gimmick to make shopping fun for the elderly. LOL…I just kind of looked at him when he said that. He just sort of shrugged his shoulders. I guess it was as good a reason as any.

I found out much later on, when I recounted the strange experience to my neighbor, that the store is in possession of a piece of the “famous” meteorite that hit the area a long time ago. I guess it’s enshrined in a glass case at the back of the store.
I dunno-I’ve never seen it.

So, that explains the blasting loud Theme from Star Wars? I think?

In honor of the experience I’ve posted the theme song for your listening pleasure below. Please make sure to turn your speakers up full blast for the full effect. Oh, and hold a head of cabbage in your hand at the same time.

🙂

Change served on a tray

When you first move here there are many small things that take getting used to. One thing that I still have trouble with is the use of change trays.

Every store, restaurant, business that you go to has little plastic or leather trays on the counter by the cash register. You never hand money directly to the cashier but rather, you place it in the tray provided and the cashier will place your change in the tray in return.

Why do I have trouble with this? I think partly because it was just so automatic for me to hand payment directly to a cashier and also because it adds to the impersonal nature of the transaction.

The one thing that hubby and I miss is personal service. In Saipan we had several restaurants, shops and such where we just loved the cashiers. We both love to chit-chat a bit with staff and it was just so nice to walk in a shop or restaurant and hear… “hello Mrs. N nice to see you again!” or some other warm and personal greeting. Paying for purchases was always made brighter by the friendliness of the cashiers.

It’s a very different story here. The cashiers are friendly but…very robotic and impersonal. Most have rehearsed lines they are taught to say over and over and over again. They shoot them off as you step up to the counter like…well…a robot. There is nothing personal or truly friendly in the transaction. You feel like just another “number”.

A couple of times I absently handed money directly to the cashier and got horrified looks. Sometimes the cashier will quickly pick up the tray and hold it under my hand. That’s embarrassing. The clueless foreign woman doesn’t know what the tray is for.

We frequent our local 7-11 and several times my husband has had fun teasing the cashiers. They are very good at the robot routine so my husband thought it would be fun to see what happened if he spiced things up  and got them to open up a bit.

7-11 sells a lot of bento boxes and sandwiches and premade foods. The cashier will ask you if you want your food heated up in the microwave. Once we bought bento and ice-cream sandwiches. My husband asked the cashier to heat up the ice-cream sandwiches but not the bento. You should have seen the look on that young cashiers face! Hubby and I busted out laughing and he explained what he was doing to the cashier. I think that was a first in that store. You may not think it’s such a big deal but at times it can be sort of disheartening. Japan can feel very lonely and isolating because there is such an impersonal nature to customer service. That seems to just kind of spill over into the general public.

I miss standing in line at the bank and the line of customers all start talking to each other. I miss striking up a conversation with a waitress or waiter and leaving the restaurant feeling good about “people”. I miss talking to the clerk at the book store about books-I mean really talking about them, hungrily talking about them-book lover to book lover!

You all know that I love it here but there are times when…I miss certain things. Funny, this feeling always creeps in around the holidays.

I thought it was just me but, hubby feels the same way I do. When we visit the base my daughter is stationed on HUBBY says….ahh…this feels good. Meaning he loves the cultural change he feels while there.

But-no, we never want to leave here. Here is home. We are trying to make a small dent in our community though. I actually have done that a bit over at the farmer’s market. It’s not impersonal anymore. I’ve already got several “friends”.

One brick at a time.

 

Nengajo

Well…I finished making my New Year’s post cards (nengajo) but I’m not really sure what to think about them.

I started off by painting the background with red watercolor.

imageThen I added washi tape and little New Year cutouts that I glued on.

image

After I made them I looked around on the internet and I saw such nice handmade cards…I’m afraid mine look childish. I’ll send them anyway. I guess the receivers will just laugh and think…”oh well, she tried”.

I used a brush pen to write Happy New Year on the front of the card…and then I wrote a simple greeting on back. I found out AFTER I made them that you can get pre-stamped cards at the post office! You can read all about Japanese New Year cards HERE.

If you know nothing about the Japanese custom of sending New Year cards it’s an interesting article.

I wish that I had read this beforehand. Oh well…next year I guess. I’m working on getting them all addressed and sent out-working on the Christmas cards too. That’s my main project this weekend. My goal is to get everything in the mail by Monday and yes-the state-side ones will be late…again. I’ve never gotten them there before Christmas. Before New Year but, not before Christmas. I always forget the 2 weeks that it takes for them to travel in the mail! I hope next year I can remember that.