In Japan, New Years is the most celebrated time of year. Hope you enjoy this weekend’s glance at Japan.
Japan’s population is some 127 million. It is estimated that over 100 million people in Japan visited Shinto shrines the first three days of this New Year. It is a tradition in Japanese homes to visit a Shinto shrine near one’s hometown (place of birth) during the first three days of the New Year. Trains, planes and expressways operate at maximum capacities on December 30 when, what can be called “the great exodus” begins as people make their ways to visit their hometowns. The “u-turn” follows a few days later when people make their way back to work in major metropolises around the country. On the u-turn trip, traffic can be backed-up by as much as twenty-two miles at toll gates on what they call “expressways.”
The young lady in the kimono and her friend are taking out change from their purses to throw in the offering box and pray for good fortune in the new year at the Munakata Shinto shrine. Notice the large golden Japanese Imperial Seal on the gate that has led these two young women into the inner court of the shrine. Others to the left have already prayed and are exiting.
Near the place of worship, this young man ties an “omikuji” (a small piece of paper that has a Chinese character written on it indicating a good or bad fortune for the year). It has cost him approximately 18 cents. You can see a mother and her two children in the background tying their fortunes to a stand in the shrine sanctuary for better luck. With New Year anticipation, an old couple reads their purchased fortunes before tying them to either a tree or a shrub inside the shrine grounds.
Away with the old ⎯ This man is doing away with his old “omamori” (a talisman or good luck charm) in the shape of an arrow and will replace it with a new one. This charm that is about to be thrown away had been invoked with the name of the god of the shrine and consecrated by the priests to invite good luck and ward off evil spirits last year, but last year’s protection has now run out.
The Munakata Shinto shrine is particularly known as a “traffic safety” shrine where people bring their new cars to have priests wave a purified wand of white paper streamers over them to keep drivers from having traffic accidents. The man pictured will purchase a new talisman for and keep it somewhere on display in his home or business for the next year. Hosts of people will also buy small amulets to hang in their cars on the windshield.
The girl on the left is what they call a “miko-san,” or a “shrine maiden.” She is dressed in a white kimono with a red skirt and is consecrated to the shrine gods. She is one of many who assist Shinto priests and also perform sacred Shinto dances. She also sells written oracles and charms at stands near the main sanctuary of the shrine.
Luck ran out ⎯ These are old good luck charms from last year that have been returned by a myriad of people to be replaced. This year countless old talismans are being replaced with new ones that have been purchased from Shinto shrines all across Japan. Some shrines actually have ceremonies in early February to burn the old charms in huge bonfires. The meaning of the word “bonfire” is very interesting. Its origin is late Middle English from BONE + FIRE. The term originally denoted a large open-air fire on which bones were burned (sometimes as a part of a celebration), also one for burning heretics or proscribed literature!
Wrapping it up ⎯
Those who trust in the LORD will not be disappointed by any means. Two of my favorite scriptures from God’s Word are better than any good luck charm can give. You see, good luck charms wear out, break, rust and even rot, but God’s Word? Never!
“Behold, He that keepeth (insert your name) shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand. The LORD shall preserve thee from all evil: He shall preserve thy soul. The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.” Psalm 121:4-5, 7-8
On this wise ye shall bless the children (of God), saying unto them,
“The LORD bless thee, and keep thee: The LORD make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The LORD lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” Numbers 6:23-26
Like we said earlier, trains, planes and expressways operate at maximum capacities on December 30 when what can be called “the great exodus” begins as people make their ways to visit their hometowns around the country. The “u-turn” follows a few days later when people begin making their way back to work in major metropolises.
It is NOT unusual to get caught in traffic jams of up to twenty-two miles long while waiting to get through a tollgate on what they call an “expressway.” If you were to get caught in a traffic jam of this length, you might well see one of these little cars in front of you ⎯ driving around NAKED!