The title says “Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu,” the formal version of “Happy New Year” in Japanese.
In our mixed ethnicity household we celebrate New Year’s in a “shared style” which means mostly that my Japanese wife makes the rules and sets the plans while I am free to share my opinions with Max provided we are out of earshot from her.
Our New Year’s activities start immediately after Christmas with what the Japanese call “Ousouji” which translates to “Big Cleaning”. This is where I earn big time hubby points performing tasks such as de-mounting the shower doors and cleaning the tracks with a tiny brush, polishing all the kitchen cabinets, cleaning under the bed – a place no man has ventured for twelve months – and generally lifting, toting and working like a dog except our dog barely lifts his head to see what’s going on.
All the cleaning must be complete by “Oomisoka” meaning the “big last day of the month”, New Year’s Eve. With New Year’s Eve comes traditional foods and rituals. The first is eating “Toshikoshi soba” which are long noodles served in a broth, eaten to wish for long life.
Now comes the “sharing” part. At our humble condo we eat an American style New Year’s Eve dinner. This year we feasted on lobster appetizer served with kir royale cocktails and a grilled rib eye steak main course accompanied by a tasty Malbec. Max got the rib eye bone, of course.
While preparing our foods we watch the live satellite feed from NHK Tokyo which features the annual “Kohaku Uta Gassen” a song contest that started on radio in 1951. In the Kohaku, two teams – the Red Team and the White Team face off in a singing extravaganza that goes on for hours.
In Japan much attention is devoted to “Osechiryouri.” Prepared the day before New Year’s or during the day, Osechiryouri is a mixture of different foods and items stored in special stackable boxes called “juubako” or ten boxes. Ample quantities are prepared so that folks can take it easy and not worry about meal preparation for a couple of days – usually it lasts until about the second or third of January. This tradition of Osechiryouri is way too much effort for us so we opt to patronize our local grocery stores and stock up on our favorite treats.
New Year’s Day, January 1, is called “Gantan” (“first morning”). Sometimes we visit one of our local Buddhist temples just at midnight and take a turn ringing the temple bell – by tradition 108 strikes (“hyakuyatu no kane”) to get rid of the 108 evils. Afterwards we’ll make a small donation to secure an “Omikuji” which is a paper detailing our fortune for the next year. After reading the fortune, we roll up the paper and then tie it to branch on a tree at the shrine.
New Year’s breakfast is typically “Ozoni“, or rice-cake soup. Floating in the soup are little rice cakes called “Omochi” which symbolize prosperity. Omochi is made by pounding a steamed special rice until it becomes a dense paste. This can then be eaten right away or left to cool and harden. The shape of the omochi gives a clue as to where in Japan a person comes from: round balls in Osaka, squares in Tokyo, and other variations from other districts. Ours are square.
Japanese adhere to lots of other rituals and formalized habits surrounding the entrance of the New Year but in Hawaii we are much more relaxed and the blending of races and cultures has produced all sorts of unique aberrations and adaptations including breakfasts of Spam with rice and eggs, a big rush to buy the best ahi sashimi (prices peaked at $37/pound this year!), Chinese fireworks, Filipino pancit noodles, and Hawaiian lau lau.
Hawaii is truly a great place to welcome 2014. It’s our favorite time of year! To all of you from we three, “Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu” a traditional saying that means “I look forward to our continued relationship over this year.”
Or, as Max says, “woof.”