Dawn spills over the horizon and flows across the valley, a layer of gold floating on the heavy night air. The weight of the light drives the darkness into the nooks, the crannies and the shadows, and night begins to drain from the world. As the disk of the sun rises over the shoulder of Mount Akagi, some 30km in the South West, it’s light falls on the hard frozen snow in our front garden, shattering into a myriad of splinters and shards which glint and sparkle as they lay upon the smooth white surface. A new day begins, the most recent iteration of an immeasurable string stretching back to the beginning of the world, when the spinning surface of the earth first rolled beneath the event horizon that separates day and night. And with this new day begins a new year and a new decade.
I coax the embers of last night’s fire into life in the firebox of the wood stove and stoke it in preparation for cooking breakfast. It is traditional here in Japan to start the year with a breakfast called "Ozohni" (お雑煮), a simmered soup of daikon, carrot and Omochi rice cake, made with the first drawn water of the year. The recipe varies by region and by household, and this year ours includes locally grown Shiitake mushrooms and Yuzu (Citron), with shrimp for good luck and long life.
The bent back of the shrimp represents the stooped posture of old age, thus becoming a symbol of long life. Also, the Japanese saying "Ebi de Tai wo tsuru" (海老で鯛を釣る) means to "cast a shrimp to catch a sea bream". That generally means to "profit largely from a small investment", but much Japanese symbolism is based on puns, and a "Tai" (Sea Bream) is often used as a ceremonial offering to represent "Omedetai", meaning happy, joyous or auspicious. So, we serve shrimp to bring us happiness and longevity.
This is our seventh winter in this house, and though the children are growing into adults and one by one leaving the nest to build their own lives, we are blessed to have everyone home over New Year. It is a celebration of our journey thus far and holds promise for a bright future. Sharing our stories of the year past, our hopes for the future, talking, laughing, occasionally crying. Playing games together, both traditional and new.
The main meal on New Years Day is "Osechi Ryouri"(御節料理), traditionally served in a three tiered vessel called a "Sandanju" (三段重). Each layer contains different types of food which can be eaten over the New Year without having to spend time cooking. Which means everyone can enjoy the fun! We share the festive fare just as we share our lives, and the food and the vessels are prepared with love to nourish both body and soul.
This year is 2020, the year of the mouse. I hope that it will bless us with the "20/20" vision to forge a better future. To clearly see what is within our control and what is not. To recognise those things which are conditions to our lives, as the earth moves on beneath the bowl of heaven and the seasons turn. And to take right action when we are faced with new challenges that we can change, however difficult the path, with the courage of a mouse that will bite a cat when the need comes. The past is a turned page which cannot change, but from which we can learn and grow in wisdom. Today and the future are ours to write, and even in the bitter cold of winter we can still make our home a warm haven for the people we love.
I wish everyone a safe and blessed year!