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Japanese New Year

Southerners have pretty standard traditions when it comes to ushering in the new year. Black-eyed peas, greens, pork chops, grits, cornbread-it's a meal meant to welcome wealth, good luck, and prosperity into your life for the next twelve months. But seeing that it was 2020 until, oh, 22 hours ago, if you live in a culture imbued with different spiritual beliefs, you may take extra steps by observing certain local practices and hatsumode.

Hatsumode is the first shrine visit of the new year. It's normal practice to get an ema to make your wishes, buy a new omamori (protective Japanese amulets), and return the old so they can be disposed of. As a gal who loves visiting shrines I had some pretty fun plans in place for today. But with an uptick in COVID cases things were changed around so I could still make my pilgrimage, but do so safely.

With its ability to tell you if places are busy or not, Google Maps really came through. I was able to visit two small, local shrines, then waited to see if the activity would drop at a larger one. Spoiler alert: it did!

After tossing coins and praying, leaving an ema with wishes for 2021, I took an extra step after picking up my special new year goshuin. Have you heard of the demon-breakers? Hamaya literally translates to “demon-breaking arrow” and are popular decorative arrows exclusively sold at Shinto Shrines during the first few days of New Year season. It is made up of wood, with a wooden tip, and often has decoration on it such as ribbons, bells, or small ema to celebrate the new year. The purpose of this arrow is to ward off the bad luck and attract the good for the incoming year. It also scares demons and evil spirits away.

The existence of Hamaya can be traced back from Edo period until the early Meiji period wherein a set of decorative bow and arrow called hamayumi were given as a gift to celebrate the new year of a male baby in the family. Hamayumi (demon-breaking bows) isn’t that popular anymore but from what I've learned there are few shrines that still sell them. Y'all know what that means: I'll be searching for one!

In the past, we've been out of the country for New Year's Eve and most of New Year's Day. But being home, spending the day doing something intentional, it may not what have been what we planned but it ended up being incredibly meaningful. And maybe that's just how 2021 needed to begin: with meaning and a hope-filled heart.

Happy New Year wherever you may be! Be safe, stay healthy, and best wishes.

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