Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year's Day in Kyoto

I woke up this morning feeling a little discombobulated from a combination of a late-night New Year's concert and lingering jet lag.  A few days ago I was in America, waking up to eat breakfast with my family and boyfriend during the holidays, and this morning I woke up in Japan to the openness of an entire new year before me, empty.  It's 2015, what should I do about it?

In Japan, people go to shrines in the first few days of the new year and it seemed like a good idea, so I went to Kyoto.  I walked around the Yasaka Shrine, the Otani Temple (or so I think), Maruyama Park, and the Gion District.  The snow began to fall lightly as I approached the Temple and the smell of incense was overwhelming.  A huge cemetery of about two-and-a-half acres spread up the foothills, stairs and small pathways leading to the dense plots of stone markers.  At the base outside the gate was a man distributing and collecting buckets of water and ladles for family members to tend the graves of their ancestors.  I stood at a distance, taking in the smell, the sight, the feeling of devotion.

I continued to walk through the Gion area and the Yasaka Shrine, enjoying the snow fall of the new year, and the feeling of welcoming something new, sharing a tradition with thousands of other people who had practiced it for far longer, inherited its meaning and significance from their ancestors, something of which I could only glean.  I thought of how the sanctity of this day–the dark store windows, families walking together, the disappearance of businessmen–seemed in some way similar to Christmas in America.  Perhaps as with any tradition, the years color it beyond its original shade, but in both there seems to be an original idea of bringing in something new and full of hope.

At the end of 2015, I will most likely no longer be living in Japan; it was wonderful to begin the year here.

approach to Yasaka Shrine;
people pose for pictures and cram to get in the entrance

some of the food stalls and vendors
in the approach to the main buildings of the shrine

hot corn and hot dogs

Year of the Sheep

buying hot food from the grill

the center of Yasaka Shrine

Otani Temple (?)

Maruyama Park

 outside Yasaka Shrine

Yasaka Shrine
wishes for the New Year

stalls near the main buildings of Yasaka Shrine

Gion District

dressed for the New Year;


covered in snow after walking;
Yasaka Shrine

snowy vendors and umbrellas

outside Yasaka Shrine;
welcoming the New Year

Happy New Year and Best Wishes for 2015!

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