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December Banners

Its getting cold in Okazaki as winter sets in. The Emperor's birthday is December 23rd (if this is a Sunday the holiday will be transferred to the following Monday). Call us unadventurous, but we decided not to bother making a banner showing an Emperor blowing out his birthday cake candles. The next day is the not so traditional Japanese "festival" of Christmas, and then we start the leadup to New Years Eve. Explanations are below the banners...

Source code for linking to yamasa.org

  <a href="http://www.yamasa.org">
  <img src="http://www.yamasa.org/acjs/images/arch-col.jpg"
  hspace=5 vspace=5 align=right border=0 height=100 width=200 
  ALT="Learn Japanese in Japan">
Please note that if you use the source code above the monthly banner will be updated automatically. No work required by you...

Each of the December banners were contributed by Roger Fung, a student in the AIJP from Hong Kong.

Waraiko - The Laughing Ritual
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200 x 73 pixels, 6223 bytes.

Omisoka - New Year's Eve
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Waraiko - The Laughing Ritual
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Omisoka - New Year's Eve
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A traditional New Year pastime in Japan is 'Hanetsuki', a badminton-resembling game played by girls with wooden paddles and a shuttlecock. In the past, the person who missed the shuttlecock had a mark drawn on her face with black ink; and the game continued until one of the player's face was completely covered with these ink markings.

The wooden paddle used in the game is known as the 'Hagoita' Although the game is now seldomly played, the paddle is valued as an ornament and is believed to bring good luck.

A Hagoita market is held from the 17th to the 19th of December at the Senso temple in Asakusa, Tokyo. This event attracts some 300,000 people annually.

The market began approximately 350 years ago during the Edo period (1603-1868). The drawings are usually created with Japanese hand-moulded paper known as "Washi" or cloth and then pasted onto the paddle, resulting in a relief. Portraits of famous Kabuki actors or a ship loaded with treasures are common features on traditional hagoita paddles. Recently, portraits of film, television stars and famous athletes are also depicted on the paddles.

Waraiko - The Laughing Ritual

Perhaps a little silly to the outsider, residents in Hofu, Yamaguchi Prefecture treat laughter very seriously. On the first Sunday of December, one's heartiest laughter is offered to the Gods in an ancient ceremony lead by a Shinto shrine priest and 21 parishioners.

This 'Laughing Ritual' dates back to approximately 800 years in the district of Hofu, located at the western tip of Japan's main island. This district was first settled during the Kamakura period (1185-1333).

The ritual is thought to have been initiated by the local farmers as a way of forgetting their hardships for a while. The privilege of offering laughter to the Gods is now inherited from those farmers and is carefully guarded by the 21 lucky households.

The Origins of the Christmas Tree

An extract from 'The Origin and Meaning of the Christmas Tree'

"...Bringing greenery into one's home, often at the time of the winter solstice, symbolized life in the midst of death in many cultures. The Romans decked their homes with evergreens and other greenery during the Kalends of January. Living trees were also brought into homes during the old German feast of Yule, which originally was a two-month feast beginning in November. The Yule tree was planted in a tub and brought into the home.

However, the evidence just does not exist which shows that Christians first used trees at Christmas as a symbol of rebirth, nor that the Christmas tree was a direct descendent of the Yule tree. On the contrary, the evidence that we have points in another direction. The Christmas tree appears to be a descendent of the Paradise tree and the Christmas light of the late Middle Ages."

Omisoka - New Year's Eve

The final day of the year is known to the Japanese as 'Omisoka'. House cleaning, preparations for the New Year holidays have to be finished by this day.

People living in big cities take a break and return to their hometowns to spend the New Year with their families, friends and relatives. On this day, many families gather around the television to watch special omisoka programs and eat 'toshi-koshi' (year-crossing) noodles hoping that one's life will be as long as the noodles.

As midnight approaches, Buddhist temples across Japan begin sounding the temple bell 108 times. The number is based on humans' 108 earthly passions one as to overcome in order to reach enlightenment; each ring is thought to drive away one such passion.

At some of the more famous temples, this practice is broadcasted live on television and radio.

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