hatsumode in hakuba

O-shogatsu means New Years in Japan, and although this is one of Japan’s biggest annual celebrations, there isn’t a whole lot of Champagne popping going on. Last night 10 tabi-tabi-ians said goodbye to the new year by eating some toshikoshi soba at The Tonegawa Soba Shop. Toshikoshi means end of the old year and start of the new year. Soba is a bowl of buckwheat noodles served in a hot soy based soup. The long noodles symbolize a long and hopefully healthy life.

After our steamy bowl of noodles, we walked through the old Iimori village to Chogokuji Temple  for Hatsumode (New Year’s temple visit). Inside we listened to the Buddhist priest chant and pray for the new year that lay ahead, we then went to a large tatami room where we shared amazake (a sweet non-refined sake) and ate mochi, rice crakers, and tsukemono (pickled veggies).

Once we had our fill, we went outside again to ring the temple bell. Everyone got to have a go at swinging the large pendulum. According to tradition, the bell must be rung 108 times. Each ring represents one of 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana. I’m sure, 2012 is going to be a good year!

Akemashite Omedeto! (Happy New year!)