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Bells, bands and friendship to ring in the new year

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2005-12-29

The final hours of this year of the rooster are rapidly ticking away, and Okinawans are gearing up to welcome 2006 as the Year of the Dog.

There’s plenty on tap these next couple days, with ancient traditions mixing with pop music to offer something for everyone. Concerts abound this holiday season, and tonight’s the chance to see Isamu Shimoji live at Ryubo Hall in Naha City. Tickets for the 7pm show are Y2,500 in advance, and Y3,000 at the door. Ryubu Hall tomorrow night welcomes Yukito Ara live at 7pm. Tickets are Y2,000 in advance and Y2,300 at the door.

The Okinawa Overground Rock Festival Ohotsk 2005 kicks off tomorrow at Club mnD in Naha City. The two-day high intensity music event begins each evening at 8pm. Tickets are Y3,000 advance for a two-day ticket, or Y2,000 each day at the door.

A six-member Okinawa City Band heads the New Year’s Eve entertainment lineup, performing at the Okinawa City Music Town Pre-event and Countdown.

Orange Range, which began its concert performances New Year’s Eve a year ago in a nationally televised NHK show, will lead groups of local Okinawa performers. The Program begins at 6pm at Okinawa Children’s Land.

Admission is Y2,500 for all entrants age six and older. Fantastic light shows are being offered at Southeast Botanical Gardens and Gyokusendo Theme Park, but the mama of them all is in Itoman. The Itoman Illumination, now in its seventh year, typically draws more than 10,000 visitors each day of its ten-day run. This year’s Itoman Peaceful Illumination runs to January 3rd, with well over 1.3 million light bulbs are threaded through the trees and draped across buildings at the Itoman Nishiazki Shunsui Park on the city’s Westside. The lights are illuminated daily 6pm to 10pm.

To the north, the Ocean Expo Park is featuring a New Year’s event January 1-3. Kahu-Debiru is free, running each day from 8:30am until 5pm. Ocean Expo Park is located in Motabu, about two hours north of Naha. Use the expressway to the northern terminus at Kyoda, then drive north through Nago, following signs for Ocean Expo Park and Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.

The new year is upon us, with customs and traditions from around the world being practiced here in Okinawa. New Year’s is the oldest of all holidays celebrated, first begun about 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon. Starting about 2,000BC, the Babylonians celebrated their new year on March 23rd, an interesting choice since they had no written calendars. At any rate, the Babylonians weren’t content with a New Year’s Eve; they celebrated for 11 days, each with a specific theme. The Roman Empire kept the March date for centuries, but the emperors’ constant tinkering with the calendar finally led the Roman Senate, in 153BC, to declare January 1 to be the official beginning of each new year.

That baby we always see wrapped in diapers and holding the New Year’s Banner? That’s a gift to America from the Germans, who used the image of a baby as the symbol of the new year since the early 14th century. The tradition of using the baby itself began in Greece about 2,700 years ago as they honored their god of wine, Dionysus, by parading a baby about. Visits to the temples are traditional here in Okinawa. Naminoue Temple will attract tens of thousands beginning New Year’s Eve, as will Futenma and Onoyama shrines. Shortly before midnight, listen for the sounds of bells ringing at temples and shrines. The Japanese tradition, Joya no Kane, the rining of the bells 108 times, usher in the new year, while warding off evil spirits.

Of course, the Japanese’Shogatsu’ New Year Celebration has more traditions, and many are being embraced not only by the younger generation, but by foreigners. ‘Omisoka’ is New Year’s Eve, simply the last day of the month, with the O added as the final element of the year.

New Year’s Eve is a time for noodles, too. Toshikoshi Soba noodles are believed to bring long and happy lives, so are extremely popular in restaurants around the island. The festivities continue New Year’s Day, with Ganjitsu, a time fo rmore eating and drinking and sharing with family.

Shogatsu is a serious family time, and relatives travel great distances to share even a few hours with each other.

Look for O-Zoni, a breakfast fare served New Year’s Day through the 3rd. O-Zoni is a mix of rice cakes in a vegetable soup, with the soup stocks varying from family to family. There’s also the traditional New Year’s dish, O-sechi. It’s hard to describe, as each family modifies the recipe to meet its needs. Suffice it to say, there are sweet boiled black beans somewhere in it.

A most visible sign of the times, the new year, is the Kadomatsu, the pine decorations. You’ll find the Kadomatsu at entrances to homes, offices and restaurants, welcoming the God and the new year. Look closely at the decorations and note the three bamboo shoots in the center, each with cut tips. Pine trees are a part of the honors, too, because local tradition traces back that pine trees remind everyone to be waiting for God, and that even in the midst of winter all is fresh and bright.

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