明けましておめでとうございます！Akemashite Omedeto gozaimasu – Happy New Year, the Year of the Sheep!
New Year’s Day, or O-shogatsu as it’s known in Japan, is the most important festival in the Shinto calendar; a time for celebrating renewal (you can read more about what happens at Japanese New Year here). This is my first time to celebrate New Year’s Day as a practising Shintoist, and living in Britain I have of course had to adapt it to fit in with British traditions surrounding New Year.
On New Year’s Eve, I did the less “fun” aspect of Shinto – cleaning. Cleanliness is one of the most important values within Shinto, and traditionally the house should be cleaned before New Year’s Day to get rid of old impurities. I’m not really a stickler for tidiness so I’ve never found this aspect of Shinto very easy! But I gave the house a quick tidy and a hoover, and cleaned my outdoors Inari altar, including the statues and offering dishes.
I also made a primative gohei – one of the many kinds of Japanese “wand” used into Shinto mainly for purification. A gohei is basically a stick with two shide attached to it. Usually they are made with especially carved and polished sticks, but I used my old wand (before I made the new one from a Japanese camphor chopstick) instead.
In Japan, one would traditionally go to a temple on New Year’s Eve to hear the bell ring 108 times to banish the 108 human desires, but this isn’t really an option in Kent. Instead, I did the usual New Year’s Eve celebration of visiting family and friends to drink and to see in the New Year. It was a lot of fun – we ate with my parents, went to a friend’s house gathering, and finally met up with other friends at the pub before returning to my parents’ house to stay the night. It was similar to the old tradition of “first-footing,” which still crops up around the north of Britain.
On the morning of New Year’s Day itself, we started off with a bit of a Japanese tradition – drinking some hot sake that I had brought! I was glad to be able to do something a little Shinto-related with my family on this important Shinto day.
When we all got home, I waved the gohei over the outside Inari altar while intoning a Shinto prayer of purification, and then made new offerings (including a celementine, chestnuts and leftover Christmas cookie) at the shrine, in addition to burning some Japanese cedarwood incense. I made my own silent prayers to Inari-sama thanking her for all her blessings on me and my family this year, as well as for inspiring me to follow the Shinto path in the first place. With my eyes closed, the evening wind blowing the scent of incense towards me, and roosting crows calling, it did feel a little like being at a small Japanese shrine. I finally said a special prayer to Inari-sama from my Shinto Norito book.
When I’d finished this, my husband and I filled in one eye of our daruma dolls to make our New Year’s Resolutions. His resolution is to eat more healthily; mine is to try and live a more eco-friendly lifestyle. I hope the kami will help us to keep our resolutions!