正月 shougatsu—New Year

Today we went for a walk in the grounds of Osaka Castle.

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The castle stands at the centre of a huge park right in the middle of Osaka, and is ringed by 2 moats and massive walls. It’s a lovely place for a walk. There is a shrine in the castle grounds, which was busy with people doing hatsumoude.

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Hatsumoude means the first visit to the shrine (or temple) after New Year. This can happen shortly after midnight on New Year’s Eve, during the day on New Year’s Day, or anytime over the next few days. In the picture, you can see a big sign with the characters 初詣 hatsumoude.

Inside the torii gate of the shrine was a big straw circle. We stepped through the circle to get good luck.

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Lots of people inside were buying o-mikuji for 100 yen. These are printed fortunes (like the ones inside a fortune cookie) that reveal whether you will be blessed or cursed during the year. If your fortune is bad, you tie it to a tree inside the grounds of the shrine in the hope of leaving it behind.DSCN4774

Another tradition is to get up early on New Year’s Day to see the first sunrise of the year (hatsuhinode). Sad to say, we were fast asleep at that time! We had been out late the previous night at Shitennoji temple.

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This is the oldest temple in Japan (1400 years old). At midnight on New Year’s Eve, the bells are rung 108 times.

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Our neighbours have all attached festive New Year’s wreaths to their front doors, and some are displaying kadomatsu decorations on their front steps.

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And some have placed little piles of salt at each corner of their premises, as they do at the start of each month.

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The shops are having their New Year’s sales. Some even opened on New Year’s Day. One tradition at this time of year is the 福袋 fukubukuro or lucky bag. In theory, you buy it without knowing what’s inside. For example, the wine fukubukuro, containing 3 bottles, is priced at 3000 yen and is carefully sealed.  But in the case of the cheaper bags, many of the bags have been opened by curious shoppers to reveal the contents. These bags contain coffee and are priced at 1000 yen.

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To celebrate the Year of the Snake, the department store bakery had baked bread in the form of a snake, eating a dango.

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They also made cakes in the form of kadomatsu (the decorations on the front door-step in the photo above), and decorated the Danish pastries with gold leaf.

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A note on the word of the day:

正月 shougatsu is written with two characters: 正 means “correct” and 月 means “moon” or “month”. In this case it means “first month”. In the old days, the first month of the year began (and New Year was celebrated) in accordance with the Chinese lunisolar calendar, on the second new moon after the winter solstice. In China, Vietnam and Korea the New Year is still celebrated at this time.

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