Thursday, January 1, 2009

Midnight at Gosho Jinja (our local shrine)

Religion in Japan is for many more of a set of customs and traditions than a true set of strict beliefs. It is this that allows the Japanese to be simultaneous followers of both the Shinto and Budhist religeons, and often Christian as well. Last night we enjoyed one of the Shinto traditions.

At the end of the year, each household brings it's old household charms to the shrine. These charms come in all different shapes and sizes. The most common is a long narrow wooden plaque. Others include a large woven 'nawa' (a rice stalk twisted rope), wooden arrows, and other interesting forms. Each of these charms has its own 'job'. Some are for health, some for home safety, some for business prosperity or family fertility... Each charm has a 'lifespan' of one year, so at the very end of the last night of the year, each household brings its old charms to the shrine, where they are burnt in a spectacular bonfire. A representative from the household then sits in on a 'blessing' from the priest, before recieving the new charms for the new year.

My father-in-law took our charms and 'renewed' them for us, but we went out for the experience, at about 12:30am. The fire was of course wonderful. There was 'amazake', a hot rice drink available, and we saw many friends and neighbours. It was a chilly night, but warm in heart.
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