Dearest Rachel –
New Year’s Day in America doesn’t have all that much associated with it, as far as I can tell. Frankly, it’s difficult for most people to engage in anything when they’re just waking up halfway through the day, nursing a hangover. The best most people can manage is to switch on the television for one or another football game (and, if they aren’t the sort to overindulge the night before – and they tend to be morning people – they might tune in to the Tournament of Roses parade), and even those are less available this year, thanks to the Covid protocols and the panic over omicron; whole teams are being disinvited to one bowl game or another. And it isn’t as if I’m really into that these days, as I’m still the only one in the house who might even be remotely interested in anything like that.
Meanwhile, it’s amazing to see all of the traditions that the Japanese have for a holiday that, as far as I can tell, can’t be even a couple centuries old, despite the apparently ancient nature of their culture. The Gregorian calendar can’t possibly have gotten to them any sooner than Commodore Matthew Perry’s arrival – and they continue to number their years based on their emperor’s reign, only six emperors since then (this being the beginning of Reiwa 4, despite his reign beginning May 1, 2019) – and yet there’s so much surrounding January first for them that you’d think it went back into the mists of antiquity.
Then again, this is the country that virtually conflates Harland Sanders with Kris Kringle, so maybe I’m giving them way too much credit when it comes to the origin of their traditions, especially when it comes to New Year’s celebrations.
But the first everything of the year is imbued with a incredible amount of significance. I’ve mentioned the first dream of the new year, and the fact that certain items – such as Mount Fuji, a hawk and an eggplant – are considered particularly auspicious. Why an eggplant, and not, say, a peach, I don’t know. There are certain games that people play on New Year’s Day, and specific foods. And of course, there’s a visit to the local Shinto shrine to pray for good luck for the coming year, complete with places to purchase fortunes to either treasure (if they’re good) or to somehow mitigate (if they’re bad).
Some of their traditions seem like modifications of our own (or possibly vice versa). We think of spring cleaning, and their tradition of ‘susuharai’ (literally, ‘soot sweeping’) is similar with only the timing being different, along with the motivation – should any of the near-infinite number of gods decide to drop by, one must ensure that their house is suitably clean for them to consider themselves at home in. And then, in lieu of Christmas presents, children are given envelopes of cash on this day, for them to save or spend as they please.
Additionally, they have a tradition that would be very difficult for us to have followed, that of watching the first sunrise of the new year. I should probably apologize for this being sounding like a dig at your inability to wake up that early in the morning (although I think the tradition, as practiced, is to stay up to watch the sunrise, so it’s more an admission of my lack of stamina than yours); it is, in actuality, a reminder that, more often than not, the sky is far too overcast here to even see the sun – especially when it’s snowing.
But the one New Year’s tradition that they have, and I really regret we are no longer able to engage in, is that of hime-hatsu. Literally translated as ‘princess’ first time,’ I think you can see what this refers to. I’m sure my wish to engage in the practice is exacerbated by the fact that this is Saturday morning, which was always ‘our time’ in any event; it’s been a very long time since our last, you know.
From what I understand, it’s best begun as soon after the last of the 108 chimes of the joya-no-kane (the New Year’s bell) fades into echo. Of course, not having such a shrine within earshot, I suppose we could’ve just as easily substituted the fireworks that tend to go off in our neighborhood right after midnight; indeed, that sort of thing is already used as a visual metaphor in a number of western films in any event. But we never formally observed the practice, as you would inevitably stay up far later that I would or even could. And were we to do anything on the following morning (which wasn’t always guaranteed – sometimes we had guests over, and it wouldn’t do to be fooling around when we had company over), we really didn’t give the ritual much thought at that point.
Still I really miss you for this reason. There are a great many things in my life for which I can find others to serve as reasonable substitutes; indeed, with regard to keeping the house clean, some of those far exceed your abilities (although in fairness, they’re aided by the fact that your departure means that those possessions you alone would use – such as clothes and other items specific to your needs – have no purpose in the house any more, and can be summarily removed – an option that would not be available in the three-person, multi-gender household we used to have). I can reach out on occasion to one of our mutual friends for an occasional night (or afternoon) out, although that option is severely limited in comparison to what we used to have as a couple.
And speaking of being a couple, that is the one thing for which I can find no substitute – or at best, any relationship that might lead to such a situation is so far in the distance that I cannot see it, and admit it might not even come into existence. It’s an unfortunate thing to have to acknowledge – and every Saturday marks another reminder of what I have to come to grips with. I wish it were otherwise – and I wish I could say more about it.
Until then, however, keep an eye out for me, honey, and wish me luck – I’m going to need it.