Been colder than it usually is around here, we even have had some snow flurries. After the traditional New Year breakfast of O-zoni and O-sechi, we set out on an adventure. Was much too windy to ride our bikes, so we drove to the base of Shiroyama and hiked up to the top. Snow clouds were moving in from the sea, but the view of the coastline and city was clear.
Jiro’s phone rang as we stood at the west end of the castle ruins, it was Kai. Pretty exciting to exchange New Year’s greetings as he stood on a street corner in Oakland and we stood on the top of Shiroyama… oooooh, technology. Hatsu-shiroyama.
The beginning of the year resets the experience clock, so all experiences, foods and observations now can be called 初-whatever (Hatsu(first)-whatever) as a pronouncement of sorts.
As is customary for the New Year, we visited Shinto shrines for Hatsumode- the first (and probably the last) shrine visit of the year to offer thanks and to pray for good fortune throughout the year. We visited Goshomyo Shrine, Wakamiya Shrine and Takimihara Shrine. We had a tumultuous 2014 and are hoping that 2015 is filled with good health, safe travels, peace in our homes and around the world.
The snow started flurrying as soon as we parked the car near Goshomyo Shrine- probably the largest shrine in Saiki.
We lined up to ring the bells and pray and then we each bought an obligatory fortune…Jiro’s said he will have “small” fortune and mine predicted “mid-size” fortune. Moderation is good.
Now it was lunchtime and even though we had lots of food at home, we decided to stop by our favorite takoyaki shop, Chanky (street food: octopus “balls”) –hatsu-takoyaki. Misato, who runs Chanky, spent a couple months last year in the Bay Area checking out the street food scene and investigating ways to introduce it to the US. She is back here now, scheming her next adventure. While we were waiting for our food, Nina called. Perfect timing. She was getting ready for a New Year’s Eve party as we were celebrating the New Year here.
With full tummies, we drove north along the coastline to Kamiura. There is a pair of rocks at 二見が裏 Futamigaura (click to see beautiful photos) that are bound together with shimenawa, a large handwoven rope, the longest shimenawa in Japan. The rocks are know as meotoiwa 夫婦岩, symbolizing a man and a woman couple. At the end of every year, local people gather to remove the old rope, make a new one and then suspend it between the two rocks. It is a popular site for sunrise photos and always draws a large crowd there to catch the first sunrise hatsu-hinode. We were just getting up at 7:25 and missed our chance for hatsu-sunrise. By the time we got to Futamigaura at 11:00 or so, we were the only people there.
Across the road there is a protected seaside scenic area- a beautifully maintained park with a traditional Kyoto style garden and the site of Gyouran Falls 暁嵐の滝. The falls are 14 meters tall and set back into a small gorge. Just the two of us as we stood watching for several minutes- hatsu-taki (hatsu-waterfall). There is a legend about kappas (water sprite) in that area and there are several kappa statues situated throughout the park.
Up the trail beyond the waterfall is a very old shrine with a copper roof that has left a bluish ring around the base of the shrine from the rainwater runoff. The ceiling panels depict animals and mythical creatures. Takimihara Shrine 瀧三柱神社 was established in the Kamakura Period(1192-1333).
Next we visited 若宮 (Wakamiya) Shrine in the neighborhood where Jiro’s mother is from. It is the shrine that I feel most “aligned” with. We visited there for Kai’s 7-5-3 celebration and also for New Year’s when the kids were small. This shrine was established when the castle was built on top of Shiroyama. The shrine at the top of the mountain was relocated here and there is a trail to the shrine from the castle grounds.
Somewhere in my memory archives of Japanese culture, it states that you are supposed to visit three shrines within the first 5 days of the New Year. I haven’t been able to confirm this….but after visiting the shrine at Gyoran Falls, we have fulfilled that obligation, regardless of the accuracy of my memory. Whew!
We still weren’t ready to go home, so we headed out towards the mountains for a drive. I knew that there was a waterfall somewhere, so we just kept driving hoping there would be some signage. We spotted a sign for 銚子の滝 Choshi Falls and followed the road to Choshi Valley. One of our goals was to visit somewhere that we hadn’t been before, so we were delighted to find a beautiful mountain stream with several deep pools and a waterfall. Snow was falling and it was just a short hike to the falls. We definitely need to go back in summer.
So good to get out…..a great way to start the New Year.
Then we came back to lots of food that I had prepared the day before: iridori (simmered chicken and vegetables), yuzu daikon, namasu (pickled carrots and daikon), gomame (candied sardines), steamed vegetables, kuromame (sweet black beans). We always make subuta (sweet & sour pork)- the only time of the year we have it. And this year I made chili. Preparing a lot of food ahead of time meant I didn’t need to cook the first few days of the year. We also had mochi that we made at our friend’s house on the 30th.
2015 promises to be a good year….