Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Very Japanese New Year (and then some)!

Saturday, December 18th saw several local ALT friends and I along with about ten other Japanese guests of the host and their children gather at Tamakawa-sensei's house (a school counselor and "mother hen") for a pleasant afternoon celebrating the New Year early. Here's what happened!

Taka (a fellow ALT in Shichinohe) and I mug for the camera as we do a number on a bowl full of crushed walnuts—one of the perfect toppings we would eventually dunk our mochi into.
Meanwhile, Tom (a new ALT in Noheji) tries his hand at "pinning the facial features on the head" game. Nice, Tom! On the nose! Hey, if the whole physics thing doesn't work out for you, you might have a future in plastic surgery! (Yeesh~)
Here I reenter the mallet-wielding world of mochi-making as I continue in my never-ending quest to scrunch as much mochi as humanly possible! (Or, at least, enough to fill a dozen hungry stomachs~;) Our lovely host, Tamakawa-san, gazes down at my handiwork.
After you have "successfully" scrunched the rice clump into a suitable rice mound, you begin the pounding process. Tamakawa-san begins to reconsider her choice in allowing me first honors as the rice leaps from the bowl with each stroke, as if fearing for its safety.
Tamakawa-san and I develop a perfect tandem as she rolls the rice into position between each hammer stroke, and I begin to shout, "Kiai!" to punctuate the rhythm. The (fake) dog in the background is thunderstruck at our nirvana-inducing teamwork.
Tom gives it a go while I take a breather. Rianna and Hayashi-san lean out of the way behind him.
No Tom! Bad! Bad, Tom. ;)

Check out the action via a short clip. I give you, Tom the Lumberjack:

Mary (an ALT in Towada) is one bad mama jama! You go, girl!
Tanosaki-sensei, a JTE and fast becoming a good friend, steps in to scrunch out any lingering clumps.
The mochi-pounding at last finished, we sit down in the foyer to pinch off doughy bits of the stuff, rolling it in flour and setting each aside for eating later.
O-shogatsu ryouri (New Year's meal—an assortment of lightly seasoned vegetables, fruit, sauces, and ozouni centered around the use of mochi, taken to promote good health in the coming year).
Later, we all gathered at the nearby Kinoshita Shrine to attend a special New Year's service put on by the Zen-Buddhist priest there. Pictures weren't allowed inside, but I got to lead the group in the ritual placement of a branch of leaves on a table before the shrine's sacred vestments, then in a sequence of ritual claps. (I'm a good clapper.) I was a little nervous, but it was really no sweat.
Next, we wrote our names on the back of a wooden talisman that contained a list of our aspirations for the New Year.  I hung the talisman outside on a double-sided board with similar ones like it.
Here's the front.
The newlywed Ooyanagis, Japanese friends of mine, joined us that day, too. Aww, what a cute couple!
"All Ice is Blueland." (This is a shot I snapped in Towada a couple days after the New Year's get-together.)  Weirdly cool!

And here's a little video sumpin'-sumpin' I took neighboring the same scene above:

Lastly, these are some of the ~140 Christmas cards I put together for my year 6 students at Kinoshita Elementary. Each is adorned with pudgy, flexible stickers of various country flags, food and/or candy, and Christmas ornaments arranged in the shape of Japanese kana and letters of the alphabet. I signed each and wrote "Merry Christmas" on them to help celebrate the season.
Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!