One Week Into the New Year, Matsumoto is Still Praying & Playing
The food stalls began to creep in a week before New Year’s. One by one, two by two they appeared, materializing on the grounds of Yohashira Shrine and spilling silently out onto pedestrian Nawate-dori. Their front sides were covered with tightly-wrapped blue tarps. They stood temporarily abandoned.
My family and I left town on New Year’s Eve, flying up the expressway to ring in 2023 with my in-laws. We returned two nights ago. January 5th. I figured the New Year’s festivities were over.
A week into the New Year and the crowds were still swimming around, that feeling of renewal and unbridled possibility mixing in the air with the sounds and smells of a community well alive.
An integral part of the Japanese New Year, of course, is going to a shrine to pray – for health and for happiness; for luck and wealth; for success in school or sports or making babies or whatever. And today, one week into the Year of the Rabbit, plenty of people had still yet to pray.
Or maybe they were, some of them, praying again. Others wrote their prayers and wishes down…
…or took their chances and drew their good or bad fortunes by way of an O-mikuji.
The lucky ones tie their fortunes to a tree, or in this case strings, leaving them, like their prayers, for the gods to handle. (The less fortunate will burn their bad luck paper mikuji – or drop them on the ground if they think no one is looking.)
For those who wish to take their good luck home with them, there are daruma for sale. Bright red and elaborately painted, these limbless buddha-inspired dolls come with blank eyes. When one makes a wish they paint one pupil. When their wish comes true they paint the other.
Tomorrow, in a local custom called Sankuro, some of the previous year’s good luck charms will be placed on a pyre and ceremoniously set ablaze. Among the amulets and items of superstition are the daruma bought a year ago. Some will have both eyes painted, some will not.
Such is life.
But there’s all year to work on your daruma-eyed wishes. For now we have today. And once you’ve prayed, leaving your greatest aspirations to the gods (though you still need to study or practice or… try to make babies), it’s time to revel in that invisible yet palatable sense that yes, this year will be good.