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Saturday, January 01, 2005

Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu!

Today I got to spend my New Year's Day the way I wanted to last year: enjoying the very different and very satisfying way the New Year is ushered in by Japanese expats, Japanese-Americans and interested wannabes like me in Little Tokyo.

There is a spiritual dimension to Oshogatsu that doesn't exist in most Western commemorations of the New Year. I've spoken of it before in these pages...the closest thing to it I can think of is the Jewish commemoration of Rosh ha'Shana, the Persian festival of Norooz at the time of the Spring Equinox, and the Neo-Pagan observance of either Halloween or the Spring Equinox as New Year depending on the circle's preference.

Oshogatsu is about examining your actions on the previous year, and thinking about how to improve yourself in the current year. Those who are adherents to Shinto visit a Shinto shrine on New Year's Day; those who are Buddhist visit a Buddhist temple; those who are Christian go to church.(there aren't a lot of Christians in Japan but there are some.) And I'm sure a few aren't especially religious at all who just go to visit the local shrine for tradition's sake...I actually visited a Buddhist temple in Little Tokyo to observe the goings-on and to purchase a talisman. The one I bought was for "Success in Scholarship." Not too different from the other little talismans and whatnot hanging off of my school backpack. Whether this means just "success in tests" or whether it also means "success in obtaining Scholarships" is something that might require some translation. Either one or both would be helpful, neh?

It's not all solemnity and serenity...there's a lot of fun involved. Music; dance; both participatory and staged demonstrations of art like Origami, papermaking, calligraphy and sugar sculpture; food and drink. The latter isn't just tea, by any stretch...both in Weller Court and at the New Otani today there was quite liberal sampling of sake, including tasting of some pretty expensive and elite stuff. Unfortunately thanks to some medication I take I couldn't indulge, but Richie got a few good tastes in. I stuck to O-cha iced latte and a bottle of the good brewed green tea that comes in plastic bottles.

I could have gone for something hot today, actually, it was quite cold. It didn't rain, much to the delight of the organizers of the Tournament Of Roses and the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. Make that 51 rain-free parade days...the streak is alive. You can bet that next year, on the 2nd rather than the 1st, it won't rain. Wash your car, plan a picnic.

According to Bob Eubanks, they've got a special deal with Gawd Awlmightay: don't hold the parade on Sunday, and He'll keep things nice and sunny. What nonsense.

I suppose it's as nonsensical as visiting a Buddhist temple and purchasing a lucky charm, or being a Neo-Pagan, or whatever. When one gets to the bottom of where I'm at regarding beliefs, I'm ultimately an open-minded skeptic. I like certain metaphors of Neo-Paganism and Zen and Daoism and Thelema but ultimately I don't swallow it like a person of faith does. I think that there's some sort of Different Intelligence out there, but whether it's "higher" than us is an open question.

It's not trendy, but that's where I'm at right now. I also know where I am not: I had my brush with Christianity and I just can't buy it. Especially the Christianity of people like George W. Bush and his...ummm..."brain trust." Maybe it works for some people: Albert Schweitzer, Bono, Jimmy Carter, a large chunk of those active during the Civil Rights campaign of the '50s and '60s, etc. etc. But as for You're welcome to your beliefs...just don't cram them down my throat. Or legislate them down my throat. Whatever.