Midnight Adventure

ZuiunjiTemple, Mitsuguchi, Yasuura-cho, Kure

Zuiunji Temple, Mitsuguchi, Yasuura-cho, Kure

Have you ever wondered what Japanese people do on New Year’s eve? Of course, they eat toshi koshi soba. Many people sit up watching TV. But, at midnight, some people gather at the temple to ring out the 108 evils or temptations that beset mankind and thus give us a fortuitous beginning for the new year.

As I get older, and have some health issues, I find I have become more hesitant to venture out on my own. I tend to rely on my husband too much. I don’t want to drive on the high speed tollway to towns I’m not familiar with. Things I never thought twice about at twenty have now become a hurdle for me.  I want to overcome this timidity and be more independent.

Last night was the perfect opportunity to get a photo of people ringing the joya no kane midnight bells. My husband goes to bed about 9:00 so I was sitting there, wondering if I had the nerve to venture out in the dark. My first hurdle was finding a parking spot along the port. I had no trouble.

No one around!

No one around!

Now I had to find Zuiunji temple which I had looked up on Google. I had no idea where it was and began walking up a narrow alley in the dark. What a strange feeling to walk along an  utterly deserted street at this time of night! ( The street above was totally dark, but my amazing little Canon S110 takes great night photos!)

Mr. and Ms. Dohi

Getting directions from Mr. and Ms. Dohi

I was feeling very lost when I heard some voices. I chased after two dark figures, calling out “Sumimasen!” (Excuse me!) I asked the whereabouts of the temple and they were very friendly and pointed me in the right direction!

When I reached the temple, the temple yard was empty. Not a sound although it was brightly lit up. After awhile, one woman appeared and she spoke to me, “It’s a little early yet..” Hideko Okamoto  had come to ring the bell, burn incense and hear the midnight chant of the priest.

Ringing out the old?

Ringing out the old?


Hideko Okamoto

Then one young priest, Inoue Agen appeared and told me to go ahead and ring the bell. He told me the meaning of the joya no kane.It took me a few tries to get a good sound out of the bell!

Buddhist priest Agen

Buddhist priest Agen

Okamoto-san with one  bodhavista

Okamoto-san with one bodhavista 

Hideko offered to show me her house, just kitty-corner from the temple. The front rooms were so spacious and tastefully decorated that I thought  she was running a small inn! I met her husband. His father was a master of Buddhist icons(bodhavista or bodhisattva ) and several were on display( far right at back).  How generous and kind to invite a stranger into your house at midnight!

When we returned to the temple yard, many people were going in to offer incense. At the gate, a man lit two joss sticks and held them out to me. I demurred and told Hideko I would watch her offer it instead. We went into the temple and I saw that the Buddha and altar there were very elaborate. I tried to ask permission to photograph it but Agen was preoccupied.

Altar at ZuiunjiTemple

Altar at ZuiunjiTemple (wooden box in foreground contains ash)

It seems there had been an accident. The women were cleaning up. The fine ash from the offertory urn had all spilled out on the tatami floor. The women had damp cloths and two vacuum cleaners, hurrying to clear it so the resident priest could begin his sutras.

Shino (12) Momoko (10) Ryuya (12) and Shinosuke (8)

Shino (12) Momoko (10) Ryuya (12) and Shinosuke (8)

I met these kids, up past their bedtimes on New Year’s eve. I asked if they knew how the ash had been spilled. Yes, they said, and told me this story in their own words.

“An older boy with hair dyed many colors ( and I think he was drunk ) was being rowdy and then he kicked the urn over.”

They laughed when I said, “Wow! I wish I could have filmed that and posted it on Youtube!” Apparently Japanese grade schoolers know Youtube!

After that, Hideko was pouring hot cocoa into paper cups and asked me to pass some out to people. It was fun and made me feel a part of things. I didn’t stick around for the sutras to end but started back in the direction of the port parking.

Hideko pours cocoa

Hideko pours cocoa

I had a great time and met some really nice and friendly people! I promised myself I would bake some sweet rolls and go find Hideko’s house in the daytime and say thanks!

Hideko Okamoto with her antique sewing machine, early Showa clock

Hideko Okamoto with her antique sewing machine, early Showa clock

I was a little proud that I got out of the warm kotatsu and ventured out in the night. A good start to the new year. We define ourselves and I vow that this year I will not limit myself by thinking I can’t do something. This year I want to get out there and meet a lot of people and hear about their lives!! I’m really looking forward to doing that!!

P.S. …My Iwate style ozoni soup turned out pretty good. We each had a bowl for breakfast. Hiroo grew the daikon, gobo, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and mitsuba!(! See recipe in previous post!)

Thanks for reading in 2013!Have a Happy New Year,everyone!

NewYears13 060

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