JAPAN: Congratulations, It’s Open!

Ah, New Year’ Day, the one day out of the entire year when, I, along with all the other women in Japan, do not have to cook or do laundry.

Of course, there is more to it than that, but let’s start with what’s important, right?

Tradition dictates that dirt from the old year must not enter the new one, so the last weeks of December are spent furiously cleaning and decorating the house to please the gods of the New Year. They seem to be especially fond of mikan, a kind of orange, and mocha, sticky short grained rice that has been beaten with a mallet until it is the consistency of silly putty, and most houses offer this on the family altar.

(My in-laws are Christian so they don’t have an altar, but like most Japanese they cover all the religious bases just in case and set out the mochi and mikan on top of the TV. Seems like a logical enough place for the god’s to stop, I suppose.)

On New Year’s Eve, we eat long noodles in soup. This is supposed to bring luck in the year to come. Many people visit the shrine or temple at midnight. For the next several days, one can see a steady stream of Japanese, young and old, in fur-trimmed kimono unsteadily approaching places of worship, slowed down by the traditional flip-flop type shoes they wear. This is about the only time one sees people from so many different walks of life in their traditional finery. Kimono are reserved now mostly for highly ceremonious occasions. (more…)

Melanie Oda (Japan)

If you ask Melanie Oda where she is from, she will answer "Georgia." (Unless you ask her in Japanese. Then she will say "America.") It sounds nice, and it's a one-word answer, which is what most people expect. The truth is more complex. She moved around several small towns in the south growing up. Such is life when your father is a Southern Baptist preacher of the hellfire and brimstone variety. She came to Japan in 2000 as an assistant language teacher, and has never managed to leave. She currently resides in Yokohama, on the outskirts of Tokyo (but please don't tell anyone she described it that way! Citizens of Yokohama have a lot of pride). No one is more surprised to find her here, married to a Japanese man and with two bilingual children (aged four and seven), than herself. And possibly her mother. You can read more about her misadventures in Asia on her blog, HamakkoMommy.

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