The weather forecast said a cold front was on its way and sure enough just after midday on the outskirts of town the snow started sprinkling down. We were on our way out to Gifu so that didn’t bode too well for conditions further on, but we had decided to spend a couple of days out at “the farm” for the new year so pressed on… Of course by the time we’d got halfway the road was getting slippy and there was nothing for it but to put those cursed chains on the front tyres. Put on the brakes to pull into a parking area and the car just kept going… that’s how close to the edge things had been. These new-fangled plastic tyre chains are supposed to be easy to put on, but after half an hour of scrabbling about in the freezing slush I still hadn’t got the hook thing at the back properly attached – my fingers had no feeling and it was getting dark and things were looking somewhat hopeless… Finally a friendly passerby gave us a hand and the left chain was on. Back in the car with the heater on full for a few minutes of agony as the blood returned to my fingers, but then the other chain went on much more easily, as I’d sort of got the hang of it.
It’s now dark and an almost full moon is gazing balefully down through a gap in the clouds as we tiptoe gingerly down the road through 10cm or so of snow. Finally make it to the house, turn on the heater, sit in the kotatsu with a cup of tea and it’s all in the past…
New Years Day and it’s still snowing. The postman braves the elements to bring us our small bundle of nengajo – there’ll be more back in Nagoya. Unlike Christmas cards, which should arrive before Christmas, New Year cards are supposed to be read at New Year and the Post Office keep the ones posted in December and go to some trouble to deliver them on the first of January if at all possible.
New Year is really just like Christmas back home in many ways: everything’s closed, all day spent watching the box, eating, drinking… We’ve only got a radio on the farm, but still don’t miss NHK’s big song spectacular which they’ve been plugging for weeks. Something like the Royal Command Performance (do they still have that? ), it’s been slipping in the ratings in recent years. The newspaper is full of adverts for January sales – these used to be after a week or so but now many places start right in on the first, along with “lucky bags”, which can be OK and can be rubbish. Even the shrines are advertising – the best place to have your car blessed to protect it from accidents, the best place to pray for success in exams… They say some 80% of a shrine’s takings are in the first few days of new year, so this is peak time for them. The terrible economy is good for holy business, but the snow and cold probably hasn’t helped.
Throughout our stay we are visited by a huge flock of small birds, flying around in a swarm like migrating swallows. About the size of sparrows, with a crest on their heads – I’m not an ornithologist, but I suppose they’re winter visitors from somewhere further north.
A new beginning… and everything is “hatsu”whatever, ie hatsumode – first visit to a shrine and presumably hatsu-sake, hatsu-tabako…
Happy New Year!