*It seems like we have inadvertently started a tradition. A walk on New Year’s Day. A slow walk, without much direction, taking in the sights of a country that truly comes out and reveres the fresh start of January 1st. We take walks all the time, but on New Year’s Day we do it before we even eat breakfast. We throw jackets over our jammies and off we go to walk the quiet streets filled with the smell of wood smoke.
We aren’t religious people. But if you live in Japan you start the new year at a shrine. Any shrine. Within a 10 minute walk from our house there are at least 3 shrines that are kept up by the local neighborhoods and countless individual shrines next to gardens and garages. In the technical sense the Japanese aren’t considered religious either, but you wouldn’t guess that on January 1st. The shrines come alive on New Year’s Eve and Day with people paying respects, buying good luck trinkets, making their prayer or wish for the new year. Not religion, really, but ritual. Tradition.
We clean our hands and make our offering. Bow twice, clap twice, bow again and then ring the bell.
I respect the ritual and the reverence of these traditions in the same way I can appreciate the sense of meditation that people find in the cavernous beauty of a cathedral. I don’t believe any supernatural being is hearing my wish, but I do believe in the power of intention. The power of starting new, even in a symbolic way.
The best part of our our New Year celebration is the way it has no direction. We have an outline but no firm commitments. Just the like the next 12 months that lay out before us nearly blank on the calendar, the day is whatever we want it to be. We can walk slowly, or crawl in the case of one baby-turned-toddler who sees no reason to use her feet. We can stop and commune with pigeons who coo at us hoping we might have some bread in our pockets.
When our walk seemed over, we came home and did…nothing at all. And anything we wanted to. We ate, and rested, and laughed and ate some more. We tried unsuccessfully to convince our 4 year old to stop with the same loop of imaginative play we’ve been stuck in for a week.