Tuesday, January 04, 2005


Now just before I set off for Okayama, I had an email out of the blue from my second cousin Tom, who said he would be in Osaka over new year. Being a bit out of the loop I thought he was on holiday in Japan, but after a bit of confusion, I established that he was on his way back from Australia, after visiting his brother, who is staying there for a few months. He had a flight from Sydney arriving at 8pm on the 31st , and leaving for London at 12 o'clock the next day.

My friend Nao (I'm using first names only by the way, just out of paranoia about the unlimited power of google, and so I can bad-mouth my colleagues without recriminations!), had very kindly offered to take us to Kyoto to take part in the Hatsumoude ceremony at around midnight, and he was generous enough to offer to pick Tom up from Kansai airport by car! Now the airport is a good hour south of my part of Osaka, in the opposite direction from Kyoto, but we made it no problem at all, came back to his parent's house, had a cup of tea and then took the train to Kyoto and met another colleague of mine in time for the bells!

And when I say bells, its slightly different from the chimes of midnight. I mean one helluva bell, which takes about a dozen monks and what looks like a huge battering ram to ring. We queued up to snake past this amazing spectacle as the monks rang the bell 108 times to represent the 108 devils inside all of us (can you feel them?). Midnight has no special significance, apart from it serves to identify the groups of anglo-saxons in the queue who loudly start to count down (and you can tell whose watch is wrong).

As we arrived it started snowing again, really heavily, which gave the proceedings an almost magical atmosphere. After the big bell thing ("Jyoya-no-kane") at Chion-in, which was a Buddhist ceremony, we fortified ourselves with a bite to eat and some hot Sake, and headed via another couple of temples (which looked totally magnificent in the snow) to Hatsumoude at the Yawata shrine. This basically consisted of joining a huge number of other people in throwing a coin onto a stage, clapping twice and praying. After that you can buy a piece of paper with your fortune on it. Tom's said his was terrible!!!

We got back at about 4am, and after a short night's sleep I managed to put Tom on a train back to the airport in time for his flight (I hope!). Not bad for 16 hours!!

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