元日の文化 – New Year’s Culture

The other weekend, I had the opportunity to join Ryan with the English conversation group that he teaches for an afternoon of chatting, snacks, and traditional New Year’s activities.  Included in this was just talking with some nice ladies, and preparing some food that is traditionally enjoyed around this time of year.  There was a lot of culture wrapped into the event, and was particularly interesting since it was largely things I knew nothing about.

The first part of what we did was prepare a dish called Ozouni.  It is basically enjoyed all across Japan around this time, and involves using mochi (ground rice dough) in a soup.  The styles of the soup vary greatly across Japan, but in the Sanuki style it had sweet beans, and a white miso paste.  Also added was daikon (massive raddish), carrots, and taro.  As we were slicing and dicing, the important thing was to maintain circular shapes to the pieces.  I wasn’t sure exactly how it mattered, but apparently the circular shape is a good one and bodes well for the upcoming year, so only circular ingredients are put into the dish.  I though that was really interesting, since I hadn’t seen the Japanese adapt a sort of practice that to me seems a bit more Chinese.

In the end, the soup was a bit strange, though it was really good, and I had seconds.  In the picture, be keen to the shape of the chopsticks as well.  They are almost never round in Japanese culture, and these special ones are only used during a meal like this.  The other interesting point (heh heh) is that these are double sided, another thing I had never seen before.  The logic here is that god, eats from the other side.  No other fanfare is given other than that, and again, it wasn’t an aspect of Japanese culture that I had come across before.

One more thing included some special Sake that is enjoyed during the New Year season.  Basically is rather sweet and had gold flakes floating around in it.  When they were explaining it, I was thinking of what all of you at home are probably thinking as well, Goldschläger.  I was given a small glass of it which was actually pretty good.

After a good deal of chatting about random things, it was time for many of the ladies to leave, though before we ourselves departed, we did a bit of calligraphy.  This is a age old practice of writing with the large brush, black ink, creating certain messages.  The lady had an entire room in her house devoted to its practice, and was quite good at it herself.  Ryan and I each tried our hand at it, which was cool.  I’m not good at handwriting or art in general, so I wasn’t expecting to do anything significant, but it was a lot of fun to try it out.  I will look for opportunities in the future to explore this further, since it really is a culture practice dating back to ancient China.  It is traditionally done while seated in Seiza, the traditional and uncomfortable Japanese style.  We didn’t do this.  This is only to be done with the right hand, so my apologies to the minor minority.

Ryan going at it

I did really enjoy the afternoon as a great change to meet some new people and learn more about a culture I find interesting.  I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw these people again in the future.

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