We arrived back from Akita last night.
New Year was toned down this year.
Hiro's brother died unexpectedly in November and by custom there are no new year celebrations. There is no New Year card sending or receiving - a "cold winter greeting, death in the family" card goes out and the correct response is to send no greeting card for New Year. It seems very harsh - more than ever people need to know that there are people out there thinking of them.... I don't know the origin of the custom, but I dislike it. There is no making or eating of traditional "osechi' New Year foods - which didn't bother me particularly as I can't get excited about eating cold foods to celebrate in minus temperatures , no annual mochi (rice cake) making. For some reason it's not OK to make osechi, but it's Ok to eat it the osechi that thoughtful neighbours give. (knowing that it's not ok to make them). There is also no (Shinto) shrine visiting (though the Buddhist grave visiting is encouraged - though with the snow and the location of the grave at the top of a long stairway up the side of a mountain - we opted out) Hiro & I popped into the local shrine anyway on the way back from Hiro restocking his tobacco, obviously we weren't meant to though as I stepped in a snow covered gutter on the way back and fell into a snow hole a metre deep... very fortunately I didn't fall as far as the water. Hiro's parent's burned incense burned the whole time we were there.
The snow in Odate, and the whole Japan Sea side, is particularly heavy this year. I was quite excited to be taking the Hanawa train line through the mountains again since there has been so much snow. Alas it blizzarded the whole way, both ways, and we could only see the snow that was stuck to the window.
Hiro's mother was beside herself with a mix of fright, shock and disbelief to find Hiro's father up on the roof peak shovelling snow. He thought it was a bit of an over reaction until the evening news reported a 37 year old man in the south of Akita dying because he fell shovelling snow from the roof.... Seeing that he decided he wouldn't get back on the roof . I have mentioned to them before it makes Hiro's and my life much easier if they stay healthy... I doubt I will be winning prizes for filial piety, but it's true.
2011 wasn't the best year for Japan. May the year of the dragon be brighter and better.
Happy New Year to all.