Kohaku Uta Gassen, Zen, drifts of gold


After spending a few days in Tokyo I came home to spend New Year’s Eve in Osaka. Ikko and I first went down to the local noodle shop for some soba, which is traditionally eaten in Japan on New Year’s Eve. Then we cruised on down to the Hartland for a kind of countdown party that included Yasuda-san’s incredibly awesome scones, a foosball grudge match between Robert and I, and most importantly — the annual NHK Kohaku Uta Gassen (紅白歌合戦), a music/variety show of epic proportions. My favorite moment had to be a monumental gothic-samurai fantasy routine by Gackt, that was as ridiculous as it was sublime.

There was plenty of the standard J-Pop fare as well, including an over-the-top routine by AKB48 that looked something like this:

And a lot of enka too. In fact, there was an especially creepy moment where some older enka-ist performed side by side with the amazing Hibari Misora (美空 ひばり), who has also (amazingly) been dead since 1989.  Here’s a clip from 1970, when she was definitely still alive and kicking:

At midnight, we forsook the sins of the Kohaku and headed up the hill to a local Zen temple. The owner of the Hartland is friendly with the head monk at this small temple and we were invited into the temple while he performed the ritual act of ringing the temple bell 108 times to expiate the 108 desires that keep us from experiencing enlightenment. Because there is a series of ritual movements and prayers associated with the ringing, this actually takes much longer than you might think. We came in about 30 rings into the affair and the monk — who was exceedingly kind — let us know at about 60 rings that he was only halfway done and we really didn’t need to feel like we should stick around if we didn’t want to. Of course nobody left (the tea that the monk’s wife brought to us probably helped in this regard) and after the 108 rings the monk let us add a few of our own. After this there was chanting in front of the altar (there were about 15 people in all, I think) and finally a ritualized burning of flakes of incense.

And speaking of flakes, after spending almost two hours at the temple it was time to return to the Hartland where Shinji-san had champagne waiting for us, as well as a special New Year’s Eve nihonshu (sake) containing a galaxy of slowly drifting gold flakes, each one signifying prosperity in the new year.


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