I was honoured and excited to be invited to the New Year’s reception at the Embassy of Japan in London-a lovely re-connection to Japan for me after a couple of weeks off. This reception was quite different from the Emperor’s Birthday celebrations, in that it was much more Japanese and seemed to to be aimed at the Japanese community in the UK-the majority of guests were Japanese and the Ambassador took the opportunity to deliver a very relaxed and amusing speech in Japanese. There was indeed lots of bowing and exchanges of the traditional New Year’s greetings.
Although Christmas has become a token celebration now in Japan, especially amongst the younger generation, the spiritual emphasis for the Japanese is on the New Year and the ceremonies and meanings it has for them. The New Year period is a national holiday in Japan so it is a very family orientated time and most people make the important pilgrimage that is the first visit to a temple or shrine from midnight on December 31st.
From looking through my Japanese friends posts on facebook from around the world, the preparation of certain foods was very important and the selection of dishes eaten at this time are very prescribed although as is always the case in Japan, it varies amongst regions. Some of the foods were at the Embassy reception. You may have seen in the news the tragic cases of choking caused by very glutinous rice balls that are eaten across Japan at the New Year, but these customs and rituals are still taken extremely seriously amongst Japanese people.
As mentioned in a previous post, 2015 is the Year of the Sheep in the Japanese zodiac, symbolising meekness, harmony & security.. Sheep are not indigenous to Japan and were introduced to Japan by the Dutch and the Portugese-a fitting analogy with all the outside influences Japan will continue to be exposed to on its journey within “globalisation”.There was a long ban under Buddhism on eating their meat and still today, lamb dishes are viewed as an odd choice amongst many Japanese. However, anyone travelling to Hokkaido will have enjoyed the “Ghengis Khan” mutton dishes that are so popular there. For a more bizarre depiction of sheep, look no further than Haruki Murakami’s “A Wild Sheep Chase” and “Dance Dance Dance”.