Hatsuhinode... New Year 2013
A few years back I had the opportunity to spend the holidays in Japan with my wife. She has returned a few times with just her and the kids, but I was excited about this trip because even though I had been to Japan once before this would be my first visit with her. So for the first time in our marriage we were going to be spending Christmas and New Year with her family in Japan.
If you’re curious, the western culture and the celebration of Christmas (at least a secular version) is present in Japan. There are lights and Christmas trees along the streets. The Malls are filled with Christmas promotions and holiday cheer, but the cultural focus is more on the New Year than it is upon Christmas and this was a very interesting experience for me. Christmas day came and went and the stores stayed open. We did exchange and open gifts and spent the day with family but the emphasis just wasn't there like it is here in the United States. The excitement for the Japanese was in the preparations for the coming New Year. It's not my intent to stereotype the average American. I'm sure every family celebrates New Years Eve in their own way, but the typical watching of the ball drop in Times Square while eating too much and sometimes drinking too much is not the way the Japanese ring in the New Year.
The resolutions are more than just empty wishes of losing weight or to stop drinking carbonated beverages. It was amazing to witness the introspection within the society that was so much different than anything we do here in our country. The New Year TV specials in Japan highlighted the thousands visiting the shrines or temples for the first time in the New Year. This is a practice they call "Hatsumode" which gets its meaning from the word for first sunrise and puts special attention on the first time something is done in the New Year. Many people visit a shrine or temple after midnight on December 31... and on our trip my wife and I joined with her mother at the temple to ring the bells.
I am merely an arm chair anthropologist but this focus on "first things" and the fundamental differences between Buddhism and Christianity create a very distinct advantage for the humanist looking at the two cultures approach to the holidays. In Buddhism your life is very much in your own hands...and while I'm not advocating conversion to the religion of Buddhism, I share this with you because the experience was one of my "firsts" on my journey of coming out of Christianity. I remember thinking to myself as I attended these festivities that my previous beliefs would have prevented me from participating in such things as the ringing of the bells at the Buddhist temple. Looking back I think that year was the year I finally admitted to myself and became comfortable with the fact that I was a humanist.
The New Year is now upon us and while it has been a few years since this Japan trip my desire continues to be a focus on things in my life that I know only I have the power to change. My goal and resolution for the New Year is simply becoming a better me and my wish for you is that 2013 will be for you the year that you experience the " Hatsuhinode " first sunrise and the "firsts" that are new again with the coming year.