Editor’s Note: New contributor, Marianne Halpin, offers a Kakizome to celebrate this new year. Kakizome is Japanese for the first writing of the new year – usually done on January 2. The Kakizome paper is burned on January 14, and a high, vigorous fire bodes well for the writer.
Midnight. Snow-wrapped shrine.
Deep bell tolls one hundred eight.
Grace dissolves desires.
And a story to go with it:
“Ikimasho! Come on! We’re going to be late for New Year!” Shigeaki
stood impatiently in the small stone genkan with his gloved hand on
the door knob leading out of our Yokohama apartment.
“I’m coming,” I grumbled, wrapping my new red scarf twice around my
neck. I pulled on my coat over two sweaters and wiggled into my shoes
in the genkan.
Outside, we ran down the frosted steps and crossed the courtyard. The
bare cherry tree lined street was empty as we hurried toward our
neighborhood shrine, Hachiman-sama. Neighbors were gathering near
bonfires set in iron-strapped holders along the wide gravel grounds.
Huge cedar trees muffled the greetings between families. Women in
kimono, wool coats, and shawls, men in suits and topcoats, children
bundled up to their eyes bowed to each other. Shin-nen Omedeto
gozaimasu! Happy New Year!
Shinto priests in ceremonial robes emerged from the shrine to chant
prayers. Women and teens passed around hot amazake. The thick, sweet
rice drink laced with sake made eyes sparkle as we waited for midnight.
The huge striking pole hung at the adjacent Buddhist bell waiting for
the stroke of midnight. Men approached the ropes attached to the pole.
A sudden silence fell over the crowd.
Shigeaki checked his watch. “Now!” he whispered, and the ancient three-
ton bell was struck. The stunning vibration rippled through my body,
making me feel as though all humanity was joined. The bell was struck
slowly over and over as it would be until one hundred and eight
powerful, deep sounds reverberated over us and in us, reminding us of
the one hundred and eight distracting desires of man.
As we walked back to our apartment, holding hands, our sides touching
in the cold clean air. I marveled at the clarity of the stars and the
purity of the moment. We tightened our grip on each other’s hands as
we returned to our home and the promise of warmth in the New Year.
Marianne Halpin is a writer and goat farmer in Hadlyme, Connecticut