Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Years Eve in Japan

What we had originally thought New Years in Tokyo would be filled with excitement. As it turns out, through our research, we learned that there were no large firework displays, large gatherings, or any huge countdown parties. There are only smaller gatherings at the temples to greet the new year. Many remain at home with their families and do not go out. This is why we decided to spend New Years in Kyoto, where many temples are, rather than Tokyo.

One thing for sure is that there were plenty of lanterns hanging about warmly lighting the chilly night. We chose one of the temples which was located in close proximity to our hotel, and near the shopping district.

An older couple paying a visit to the temple for the last time in 2009.

Dimly lit streets, but not shady, were warm and inviting, and great for an evening stroll through town.

Above the doorways and on the doorsteps were many different kinds of creative bouquets and wreaths to greet the new year. They were made of all sorts of natural materials including bamboo, rice straw, pine branches, and folded paper.

Yasaka Pagoda carefully keeping watch over the sleepy houses and ryokans surrounding it. It was first built in 1191 but was burned and then reconstructed in 1440. Click here for photos of Kyoto in the 1910s.

The temples were much busier than the quiet winding streets. Many people came and went through the giant gates. In the past, it was the custom to come to the shrine and light a straw rope from the lanterns (or try to obtain a few embers) and go home to light the hearth for the first meal of the new year. Many people carried around these ropes which they were handing out freely. I doubt that they were lighting fires at home though.

We watched as sticks with prayers written on them were slowly burned in numerous lanterns.

Vendors were set up around the perimeters and sold everything from herbs to hamburgers.

Miniature candy apples. MMM.

I believe that most of all we enjoyed walking about and looking at cozy houses that evening. The warm lights that night showed off the artistic culture in the streets, revealing the beauty of their simplicity and history.


Jeff said...

Darn! I just lost my comment. You'd think I'd learn how this works. Anyway, thanks for the lighted lamps. They were nicely foreshadowed in your last post. I would have loved to walk that city on such a peaceful New Year's evening. I just put your last photo on my desktop. Must live with that a while.

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