A Kakizome For The New Year

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

 

 

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