Happy New Year everyone! How is your 2017 going so far?
Do you have any New Years goals you want to accomplish? Though I didn’t start some of these at New Years, some of the things I still want to continue are…
- jogging at least 3-4 times a week
- eating less than 1500 calories everyday
- follow a strict budget and meal plan
- study, study more Japanese
- write at least two blog posts every month
Thankfully I had a six day vacation from work a little before the New Year break. Unfortunately, Trevor and I had no where particularly special to go… but that’s okay because we (and especially me) had a very relaxing and quiet time at home. I admit I had a hard time forcing myself to go back to work on the Wednesday after break ended…
While we couldn’t go to Adventure World as we were intending to, we ended up deciding to go to Hongu, the closest town to Totsukawa on New Year’s day. My principal, hearing that I wasn’t really doing anything for New Year’s, told me that we can drop by Hongu since there will be some food stalls. Well… can’t say no to that right?
Hongu is a town in Wakayama prefecture, about half an hour away from where we are. Kumano Hongu Taisha (Kumano Hongu Grand Shrine) and Japan’s largest tori gate, appropriately titled “O-tori” reside there, along with some World Heritage Pilgrimage Roads that also run through Totsukawa. It’s a small, but bustling town that always seems to be brimming with tourists whenever Trevor and I drive through it on our way to Shingu.
New Year’s was no exception. Once we arrived, we immediately noticed the crowd was much larger than usual. There were traffic cross guards to mediate between passengers and vehicles, festival food stalls, and lots of people heading towards the Shrine for Hatsumode.
Hatsumode is essentially the first shrine visit of the year, and Japanese people will typically visit a shrine sometime between January 1st and 3rd. To be honest, I’m not too familiar with what you’re supposed to do during Hatsumode. There seems to be certain actions you need to do once you’re standing in front of the large bell-rope. But I think you’re basically praying for a good year, or whatever it is that you want to pray for.
The line to Kumano Hongu Taisha was the longest I’ve ever seen it. The entrance to the shrine lies next to several long stands where souvenirs are sold. The line extended past that… past the well of water where you purify your hands and mouth…. down a part of the stone steps. It was incredibly long.
There was also this magnificently large work of calligraphy displayed. Last year, I took my mom and cousin to Hongu sometime around New Year’s and I remember seeing a similar thing but with a different character written on it. The symbol is written with a huuuge calligraphy brush by the head priest of the shrine- the kanji character he writes is to represent the wishes for the upcoming year. Last year’s was “spirit.” This year is “inspire.”
Festival food!! We can’t skip out on that now can we. Almost all of the classics were there:
- frank on a stick
- grilled squid
- french fries
- baby castella
The weather was very nice for it being January. Being from Minnesota, I was always used to cold winds and fluffy white snow being present around this time… I’m still getting used to a snow-less winter here in this part of Japan though. New Year’s day felt almost like a nice, warm November day in Minnesota. It felt nice enough to take off our winter coats while we walked around!
Oh yeah, fun story. For the first time, I heard a Japanese person compliment Trevor for his “beautiful eyes.” He was a worker who sold me my french fries and when he saw Trevor, he immediately noticed his blue eyes and just thought they were so beautiful, and told him in English that Trevor had very beautiful colored eyes. I could have sworn him say he was so envious in Japanese…
While we didn’t spend the entire day in Hongu, it was still nice to get out of the house for a bit and walk around this little but lovely town. A good way in my opinion to start off the New Year 🙂