You might wonder, what is are the Japanese holidays like? Well, Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan and is usually reserved for family activities and school art projects (with children bringing home painted paper cup “bells” and papier-mâché Santa Claus). Usually, Christmas is celebrated over a romantic dinner between couples, who will take a leisurely stroll through the city afterwards whilst munching on savory street snacks.
On the other hand, the Japanese New Year is much more culturally significant. It is equivalent to the American Thanksgiving; featuring feasting galore and gift-giving between young and old. The New Year includes rituals like mochi-pounding, multiple visits to the local shrine, and joyous family dinners. In Pelan’s case, we also have a haiku contest and talent show.
I’ve taken some photos of my experience celebrating the Japanese New Year at Pelan Village on Chichijima, Ogasawara. Click the photographs to enlarge them and read a short blurb.
After dinner, we trotted to the nearby temple to pay our respects and make a wish for the New Year. Once the bell has rung 108 times, the New Year has begun.
We rose at 3 am to kayak on choppy waves, with a strong wind working against us, and brief rain interrupting us. It was really tough and I flipped over.
Later, after dinner festivities, a haiku about my being the first in Japan to be in the sea, having flipped, won a haiku contest. It was some sort of pun on the Japanese word for flip over, in contrast with the word that has the same meaning for penis.
Yatta! We made it!
Gorgeous shells everywhere.
Ryo builds a small fire to boil broth for mochi and veggie stew for our breakfast. He fooled me into believing he was brewing coffee to mix with mochi. Many laughs were had, at my expense.
These three guests have made a habit of staying at Pelan Village every year for New Years, and they joyfully follow their tradition of sea=kayaking to this particular beach and swimming in the nude as the sun rises onto the New Year.
We drink sake, saying “Campai,” as we toast the New Year.
Nanami, Ryo’s friend and the island’s hula teacher and restaurant owner, is married to a robust fisherman. After we landed back in town, he brought us to our boat and proceeded to gut and butcher an entire (small) longfin tuna. He scraped alongside the spine for fresh sashimi and we got a taste.
The fish, in four.
We carry the fish, nestled in cardboard, in the backseat.
We pay our respects again, this time at a different temple near Oguira Beach.
Ryo’s daughter and granddaughters come to visit for a New Year’s mochi feast.
Umi, sporting a monkey costume, pounds mochi while her mother, Chika, jokingly cringes. That hammer is heavy! The mochi is a mound of glutinous rice, nestled in a sturdy carved-out tree trunk.
Mochi mochi mochi yummy.
Anko (red bean paste, strawberries, and mochi. Not my favorite at all, but Umi loved it. (I have had a childhood fear of anko since I was forced to eat too much during kindergarten in Seoul, where I lived for a year.
We sit down to eat and share laughter.
The best sashimi I have ever eaten in my entire life. This is a famous kind of giant shrimp, super costly. Nanami’s spouse gifted it to Ryo.
We worry over the soba.
Osechiryori, or traditional New Year’s dishes.
Ft. pickled octopus, daikon and carrot, fish steamed in thick seaweed, and tiny crunchy fish mixed with sesame seeds.
We smile for the camera.
Everyone was prompted to participate in a performance. Tommy did a charming puppet show with a penguin, a doll, an a turtle. The story was about how another guest got lost while kayaking.
Ryoji-san, who was really kind to me, played the harmonica.
Umi did a puppet show and Sanae attempted to walk with crossed legs. I quickly drew each performance during their skit and gave them out.
Manzo is skilled with a yo-yo.
The lovely guests get ready to leave. We lunch at the weather station, where you have a fabulous view of surrounding islands and you can whale watch.
After New Years and after we wave the Ogasawara-maru off, we check out our friends’ Indian Market.
Fumi’s gorgeous glassware.
She manages to fit opal filaments into the glass! She can also shape flowers, mushrooms, little creatures, and leaves.