At the very dawn of the New Year, as the peal of the Joya No Kane – the Shinto temple bells – reverberates through the city, people pour into Kyoto’s streets and alleys. At the 108th and final toll they reach their local shrine and fall to silent prayer. The view of religion in Japan is expansive and fundamentally different from that of the West, but the same in its relationship to feelings of gratitude and hope that the fortunes of one’s world will serve to protect and provide for all going forward. Each temple has its own character and qualities. Some are oriented more toward the harvest, others toward business. Others may be aligned with beneficence toward seafaring or educational hopes. Today Kyoto’s shrines attract visitors from far and wide, each carrying a heartfelt, humble entreaty for fate to smile upon them.
1st to 3rd
On the morning of January 1st Kyoto homes make use of a traditional earthen hearth usually called the kamado – though Kyoto dwellers have a special honorific name, O-Kudosan – to cook that special holiday’s rice, rice being among the most sacred gifts of Earth’s bounty. They fire the hearth in the ancient way, with flint, an act that’s said to scare off the “spirit of evil”. They make a traditional soup called O-zoni (the “O” being a designation of special honor), which has variously interpreted ingredients but always includes soft, chewy o-mochi, pounded rice cakes. The zoni is an offering to the inhabitants of the “world beyond”, first and foremost, but it is consumed over the next three breakfasts by the family.
Variations in o-zoni include the ingredients, size and shape of the mochi, and so on, depending on region. In Kyoto round mochi is the thing, along with kashira imo, a large type of taro root, and thinly-sliced daikon, a heavy white radish, whose disks in the mix are symbolic of good fortune.