-just need pics-
The year is coming to a close here and you can feel it in the air! People are madmen walking around with last minute errands, stores (and the banks, curse them) are closed-closed-closed and in-house preparations are aplenty. I woke up this morning to the delightful process of making mochi. Or at the very least, molding it into fun and rather large balls. We watched a fun machine do the job of messing with the rice ’til it was a smooth blob. I sucked at the whole ‘make a pretty mochi ball’ thing until we were halfway through the dough, as is always the case, but I managed. Once we’d shaped probably more than 30 balls of the stuff we sat down to enjoy them with shoyu, kinako and/or anko. I heavily favored the kinaki, which is much more textured/larger grained/textured here, and which is best eaten by dipping the mochi into hot water before you coat it with kinako. Fun and -useful af- tip friends.
After the mochi madness I dinked around for a bit before going out for the last daytime of 2016. I needed to a.exchange some USD for ￥and b.get the host fam a New Year’s card, since this is kind of a big deal. I ran into many problems in this endeavor. First off, I wandered almost the whole of Shijo (between Kawaramachi and Karasuma, that is) to try and find an exchange place and they were all closed. All of them. So I went to Kyoto Station to find that place was also closed. Ughhh, what a waste of time. I ended up just browsing around some department stores and getting myself some clothes for New Zealand, which was good but sad for my wallet. Followed by a long and semi-successful hunt for New Years cards. For a country who loves it so much, you’d think cards would be easier to find. The majority of things were actually postcards or money envelopes, dear god help me. I ended up with a good card for okaa-san and otou-san and something for Lizzie and Steph, but oh was it an ordeal.
I came home after that to some relaxed dinner, after which otou-san taught me how to make tamagoyaki! Which is just fried egg, but it’s rolled specially and usually used in bento so it’s not just easy-peasy today. Trust me, I found that out with my 2 1/2 attempts tonight. They came out alright though, with otou-san’s help, and I actually did pretty much all of the last tamagoyaki on my own. I’m so pleased that I can make them now!! Chiro-chan liked it too, but I think that’s more because she loves egg.
After egg-y goodness it was downtime until we headed out to Chion-ji. Every temple in the city, upon hitting midnight, rings their bells starting with the monks and turning into the common people. It’s on a first-come first-serve basis for the 108 lucky earliest guests, since it’s rung the first 108 times to represent letting go of the 108 temptations in some sect of Buddhism. Okaa-san had asked the monks there when to arrive, and since they told us 10:30 that’s what we did. Only to hear that we had easily missed being within that special group of people, unfortunately. We did decided to stick around for what was in the temple though, and we’re both so glad we did!
Inside the temple everyone sat around the main feature, an untouchable statue of Buddha surrounded by golden lotus flowers and other beautiful sculpture work. As we sat, a mixture of people praying, glancing around with uncertain expressions or chattering away in their own world, the monks started to chant and sing. After a while of this, which was lovely and powerful, everyone was instructed to stand to the side and grab hold of the prayer beads that were being lowered from their place hanging on the wall. Note, these beads were probably the size of a casual stress ball; I could fit my hand around them, but not easily. They were big. We all passed them, sliding hand to hand to feel each bead, counter-clockwise as we set next to each other. This was accompanied by more singing from the monks, and chanting that we eventually joined in on. I bowed at the big beads that would pop up every so often, as did those neighboring me, and we went at this at a relatively smooth pace until everyone was worked up into a frenzy. The chanting got louder, faster, a smooth but constant pounding rhythm we all matched in passing it around, upped when we were told to bounce them, or more excitedly pass them along. It’s a bit difficult to explain, but I’ll have to hope it stays firm in my memory because it’s one of those experiences that is one of a kind and beautiful.
After the beads had made their way around the temple who knows how many times, we all filed outside to start ringing the bell and drink amazake (sweet sake). As I mentioned there are 108 relevant temptations/earthly desires, along with many other meanings, that are significant. So those people lined up while the rest of us waited to partake in the post-108 rings. Okaa-san and I ended up hanging out right next to the line, where she started chatting up this couple who came all the way from Tokyo. Magical human that she is, we managed to get invited to tag along with them (as number 97 or so?) and ring the bell!! Oh wow, I’d already built myself up and then down about getting the chance to do it, so riding the high back on excited was awesome! It ended up being just me and the sweet couple, as okaa-san offered to take a picture for them with their fancy camera. And thank god she did, because the couple super-extended their hospitality and even took a few extra pics of me standing next to the bell and sent them over (high def and quick because they had a fancy camera). Happy New Years indeed!
But what about jinja? There are no bells, no religious writings to look to for getting rid of temptations, so how does Shinto ring in the New Year? With prayers. When we got home it seemed that otou-san had just been sleeping or chilling in his room instead of making his way to Shimogamo Jinja as he’d said. So it was family outing time as a full unit! I honestly get so happy and fuzzy inside when we all go out somewhere, it’s such a casual family thing and I love it to death. When we got to the shrine it was crowded as poo, as to be expected. What was a surprise, however, was the fact that there were absolutely delicious-smelling food stalls lining the whole walk up to the shrine, which me and my empty pockets were not prepared for. Ahhhh, why are they so smart and cruel?
We all made it in to the shrine no problem, passing the huge beautiful bonfire they created right outside of the torii and marching in. There are eto (zodiac) shrines at Shimogamo as well, so we all split to pray at our respective signs. I’m a rat, and I had a pretty mellow non-line, which was nice in that I wasn’t getting smooshed between aggressive new years praying folks. Once we were all done we headed back out, and bless otou-san’s soul he bought me takoyaki, which I happily burned my mouth on as the first food of the New Year. Talk about yummy. It was about 1:30 when that happened, and we were all home by around 2 o’clock. Not too shabby, eh?
I got home to a lovely video call with Danielle and Emily, who are bumming around in Germany with children exploding fireworks everywhere. Looked lit (ba-dump). It’s nice to see so many people exploring and having fun on New Years Eve and Day, even if those people have to struggle with an all-German Dominoes at 10 pm because they haven’t eaten and it’s the only place open. I hope the force was with them for that mess. Anyways, I didn’t make it to bed until super-duper late, because what’s the new year for if not to mess up good habits? Or is it make them? I never really try that stuff anyways 😉 Welcome to 2017 everyone, and akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!!!