The plum blossoms are blooming. Winter is leaving!
The sleepy struggle of January has finally ended and February has begun in Shimada with warmer temperatures, more sunlight, and a new burst of energy from yours truly. Already in the first week of the month I have had many great experiences and done many new things.
February 3rd was the Japanese holiday Setsubun. This holiday marks the official beginning of spring, or really the end of winter, in Japan, and is a time for removing the demons from your life and home and welcoming in good luck for the new year. This holiday is one of the most interesting I’ve seen so far in Japan. Most people celebrate by throwing beans outside of their homes (or for children at adults dressed as demons) and saying “Oni wa soto. Fuku wa uchi,” meaning demons are outside, good luck is inside. The process of throwing the beans is supposed to keep the demons outside of your home so that good luck can be brought in.
Facebook featured a cute demon and people throwing beans to mark the holiday.
A more recent tradition involves eating a special kind of sushi roll called eho maki. This roll has specific eating instructions. You must eat the entire roll without speaking and while facing in the lucky direction for the year (this year I believe it was south south-east).
I spent Setsubun with a Japanese family I am close with. After work we drove to Shizuoka City where we attended the Setsubun service at a Buddhist temple. Attending this service for me was just like going to a (good) new church in the US for the first time. Everyone I met was full of smiles and words of welcome. I was taken on a brief tour of the (fairly impressive) building and saw their golden reclining Buddha statue. This modern temple also was able to provide books of the sutras to be chanted in romaji (Japanese sounds written in English lettering) and in English translation. They even had people available to translate the service to English via a wireless headset.
The service itself was a very nice reminder to focus on the good in our lives and to not let our demons control us. It was a great way for me to mark the beginning of the year of the monkey and to focus on bringing more positivity into my life. I look forward to hopefully being able to visit that temple again and speak more with the wonderfully welcoming people there. Especially since I recently bought a book of the teachings of Buddha as my self-improvement book for my 2016 reading challenge (be on the lookout for a post about the reading challenge soon).
I’m now excited for the rest of this year. The year of the monkey is, after all, my year. As I’m just over 6 months out from turning 24, and just under 6 months from completing my first year in Japan, I’ve been trying to really take inventory of my life and focus on the things I want to accomplish in the coming year. I think this year really will be my year. I expect many great things to happen.
I also expect many interesting new things to eat and drink, including this warm rice beverage which is a byproduct of the sake brewing process.
On a slightly related note, yesterday I visited a local shrine and bought a love fortune (a Japanese tradition where you can buy different kinds of fortunes on slips of paper that give advice or warnings and ranks your luck from worst to best) and I got the best luck, so I’m looking at you, attractive people who are either 1 or 2 years older or younger than me and have type A blood. Or, you know, something like that. I don’t think the fortune has to be followed to the letter.
My visit to the local Oi Shrine yesterday was part of a very exciting experience I had as Shimada’s newest local supermodel.
I now call myself Supermodelmarie.
Ok, maybe I’m playing it up JUST A LITTLE, but I was introduced as “Model-san” so I’m going to be riding that ego train for at least two weeks and you can’t stop me.
The real story is that the city of Shimada is trying to promote foreign tourism in the area and contracted the company Marubeni to make an English eBook about sights in the area and how to do things like take the bus and properly dispose of your trash (something that is taken very seriously here). Apparently as the conversation of having foreign models for the book went on my name came up and I was asked if I was willing to participate in a day long photoshoot around Shimada, Kanaya, and Kawane. Of course I said yes.
This train dresses up as Thomas the Train in summer. It’s a big deal.
The photoshoot itself was very fun. We got to visit Shimada’s museum, the steam train in Kanaya, and an onsen (hot spring) in Kawane. It was easily the most beautiful day of the year so far, with blue skies and little wind, and I’m glad to have had the opportunity.
I’m also glad to be slowly becoming more of a part of the community here. With every event I attend, person I meet, and tea festival dance practice I go to, I feel like I am becoming less of a stranger and more of a person who lives here. It’s an exciting feeling, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of this year has in store.
Me at dance practice if you didn’t think I was being serious.