Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year Temple Visits

I won't even try explaining the workings of my extended family here, but let's just say that it is hugely extended and hugely huge.  Today I went on an outing with the young ladies of one part of the family for crepes and galettes at a French restaurant in Harajuku run by French people from Breton.  The food was so good that I almost cried and it was nice to be around a bunch of French speaking people for a change.

The coming of the New Year marks the time to visit temples!  First the girls and I went to a love temple to have our love fortunes told.  All but one of them are in search of boyfriends; rich, rich boyfriends.   I have to admit that I was pretty into this love temple idea - there is an area where you take a box full of sticks and shake it until one pops out of a small hole.  On the end of that stick is a Chinese character that matches an envelope and inside that envelope is your love fortune.   Unfortunately left my camera in the car so no documentation happened, but in the main part of the temple there were thousands of women standing in lines waiting to pray for husbands to rain down on them.   After you pray and get your fortune, you eat mochi and sweat bean drinks and imagine where you are going to meet your next bf.

(From left to right, David the Swiss Banker who Setsuko (to the right of him) is marrying, Setsuko, Yoshiki, and Yuko.  My 5th cousins!)
The main attraction of the day was a trip to Meiji Jingu, the biggest temple in Tokyo.  To get there, we walked through the main streets of Harajuku flowing through this river of people in their mad dash to buy as much stuff as possible in the New Year sales.  All of the shops in Tokyo (and the rest of Japan?) put together these mystery bags called fuku buku (literally translates to happy bag) and for around $100 you get a bag full of whole bunch of mystery clothes.  I don't really call this a deal, because the point of shopping for me isn't just to have a lot of stuff, but rather to chose something that I like, but people here are crazy about this.  At crosswalks you see women carrying four of these mystery bags (you can tell what they are because they are all around the same size and stapled or taped shut).
A bunch of people.
Walking with all the cousins.  Me, as usual wearing a lot of bright colors all at once.  Everyone else in four inch heels, and black Gucci/LV/whatever ensembles.  I basically always stand out because of my tendency to dress like I am on a tropical cruise or like its still 1960, whereas everyone in Japan wears only black for winter.  I suppose that chique and all that, but I can't give up color!
At the entrance to Meiji Jingu.  It's pretty amazing, you are in the middle of the city and then suddenly there is this forest and you enter it and it gets so much quieter and you can almost forget you are in Tokyo.  Ok, today, not that quiet because there were hundreds of people walking next to me...
Every New Year you can buy many good luck charms from the temple and then the following New Year you return them to the temple and the priests burn them and you buy new ones.
These are basically happiness charms (for the family, house, health, etc.).  Setsuko is returning them to get new ones.
Me, walking with the throngs of people through the forest to the temple entrance.
Toward the entrance of the temple there are cases of nihon-shu (sake) given to the temple by various companies.  Kind of like giving tithings at a church service, but in large vats of alcohol.  No one ever drinks it, it is just a symbolic offering to the gods.
Cases of wine from France and America given to the temple.
People tie fortunes and wishes to these strings and branches of trees around the temple so that they will come true.
Before entering the temple you always wash you hands and clean your mouth with this temple water.
The temple grounds.  Beautiful!
Usually when you visit a Buddhist temple in Japan there is a slotted box where you throw your coin into before you pray, but because this is the largest temple in all of Tokyo and receives something like 4 million people in the three days around the New Year, they made this giant area that you throw coins into.  It was pretty amazing to just stand and watch the rain of coins fall.
The crowds inside the temple grounds.
The fat line approaching the main part of the temple.  At the head of this line is the place where everyone can throw their coins (money for the gods) into this big area they constructed for the New Year crowds.  There was a three hour wait to get through this line so we snuck in through the exit.  I was sure the guards would turn us back, but when we told them we were just coming in the exit to buy the temple's lucky New Year charms of course they believed us and let us in.  This is the beauty of Japan, everyone will stand in that line rather than sneak around the back so they believe you when you tell them you aren't a sneak!  I guess I've found a way to work the system.
After completing our New Year's prayers.
Me, buying good luck trinkets for the year of the cow (which is my year!).  I feel a good one coming this year - last year we shook it all up, and hopefully now things are settling and taking shape in interesting ways.
Leaving Meiji Jingu you find yourself back in Harajuku and Omotesando, the middle of high fashion shopping.

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