I thought I might post a little bit about how we opened up the new year this past week. Prior to New Year’s, I went back to Seattle for Christmas, as I tend to do, but only for a brief six days this time since I had trouble getting time off from work. Yet even six days was enough time to gain weight from all that holiday eating, as I unfortunately discovered. Perhaps a bit heavier than when I left, I arrived back in Japan on the 29th to head down to Kyushu with Yuki. For the first time (ever for me, in about six years for him), we spent o-shougatsu at his familial home in Sasebo, Kyushu.
It was the first time for me to visit his parents’ home, although I’d met them — once — before. They are very nice folks and I know I’m pretty lucky considering the number of horror stories I’ve heard about in-laws (or out-laws, as I often hear them dubbed). I know that they are shocked to be saddled with a foreign daughter-in-law — I know precisely because they’ve told me — but they try to keep the healthy attitude that it’s Yuki’s life and that it’s up to him to make his own decisions, whether they think they’re wise or not. Though that doesn’t mean they don’t give him an earful from time to time, especially about his educational choices. 😀
At any rate, we arrived in Sasebo after something like eight hours on various trains. Hard to believe it takes nearly as long to get halfway across a country the size of California as it does to fly from Tokyo to Seattle, but there it is. The new year holiday was busy: full of lots of rushing around to different sights, shops, and eats. We visited the “99 Islands,” part of a national park in Sasebo that encompasses the bay filled with, in fact, not 99 but 205 islands. We drove past the American navy base a couple of times and saw a number of squids and their families around town, which was both amusing and slightly disorienting for me. We ate a lot, of course — not helping the Christmas gains at all — and rented movies to fill the time until midnight on the 31st when the hatsus began.
Mini Japanese lesson for you here: hatsu is how you read the character 初, which means ‘first.’ New Year’s in Japan is absolutely bursting with hatsus. Hatsu-moude (first visit to the shrine), hatsu-yume (first dream), hatsu-uri (first sales), hatsu-hi-no-de (first sunrise), and so on.
Last year, we did our hatsu-moude at our nearest shrine here in Omiya*, Hikawa Jinja. Hikawa Jinja happens to be in the top ten in the entire country for hatsu-moude visits, though, with just shy of 2 million people regularly visiting during the first three days of the year and the line is quite a thing to behold. Last year we cut in through the side, since we know the area, and only had to wait about an hour in the wee hours to move the 100 feet or so to the inside of the shrine.
This year, though, in the considerably less visited suburbs of Sasebo, Kyushu, we didn’t have to wait to long. We visited the small shrine near Yuki’s home at midnight and threw in our offerings, prayed to the gods for good luck in the coming year, and got free bowls of o-zouni, a weak soup with Napa cabbage and mochi rice cakes in it. The next day we hit up another, larger shrine for yet another hatsu-moude and to get new charms for the home for the new year. Then the night of the 1st, we once again headed out at midnight — only this time not for spiritual gains but commercial. It was time for hatsu-uri and the popular shops in Sasebo all opened at midnight to offer one of the biggest sales of the year, including the perennial favorites: fukubukuro. Literally “lucky bags,” these are sealed bags that the stores only sell at New Year’s for a set price. You gamble your luck that you might like the contents, though some shops have begun to display what is in the bags. They are usually (and unsurprisingly) filled with goods that haven’t sold well and need to be cleared out of the store, but the shops throw in at least one or two “hot items” as well, so you don’t go away feeling too sore after you pay and get to open your bag.
Yuki’s little sister and I bought bags from a store I rather like, called SM2. The bags cost 8,000 yen ($80) and contained approximately 30,000 yen worth of clothes, so it’s a rather good deal, even if you might not like everything in the bag you get. When we went home and compared, I thought Mai got much luckier than me, but those Nonakas are just lucky folk — maybe their luck will rub off on me in time?? 🙂 Still, I got a couple of nice shirts and things that I’ll find occasions to wear, even if they weren’t anything I’d usually pick out myself. It’s rather fun to leave your fate up to chance and just see what you get stuck with. It helps you try things you might not otherwise, and that’s usually a good thing.
The next couple days, amid a shock of snow and cold weather, we hit up more stores, visited the family graves, the local European-styled theme park Huis Ten Bosch, and barely had a moment free, it seemed. Now we’re at last home and Yuki is back to work as of today. I go back to my full-time job at the school on Thursday but until then I’ve got a big ol’ translation job to work on, so I should hardly be wasting time blogging anyway, now should I?
*Omiya is in fact named for this shrine, as the name of the area simply means great (oo) shrine or temple (miya).