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Dog bows out as new year welcomes the pig

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2006-12-28

The dog’s barking is about to give way to the pig’s squeal.

The Year of the Pig is upon us. The Chinese calendar, with its 12-year cycle, has 2007 as the year of the pig, and for those who track the Chinese system, the Pig type is usually an honest, straightforward and patient person. He or she is a modest, shy character who prefers to work quietly behind the scenes. When others despair, he is often there to offer support.

It is easy to put trust in pig type; he won't let you down and will never even attempt to do so.

The Lunar New Year is February 14th, but the better known January 1st marks the date the pig shall reign. On Okinawa, plenty of things are happening to celebrate the new year, with ancient traditions mixing with pop music to offer something for everyone.

Concerts abound this holiday season, and tonight’s the chance to see Aria Cara Swing time at Hotel Nikko Alivila Lounge. Admission to the show, which begins at 8:30pm, is free.

Several long term programs are running across the island. Gyokusendo Fantasia, 9am-6pm daily at Okinawa Kingdom Park and Gyokusendo Cave in Tamagusuku, runs until March 31st. Admission is \1,200 for adults and \600 for school children.

To the north, the Manza Flower Carnival, sponsored by Manza Beach Hotel and Resort, runs to February 28th. Admission is free. At nearby Southeast Tropical Gardens in Okinawa City, Christmas and New Year Paradise runs daily 4-11pm until January 3rd. Admission is \1,800 for adults and children 12 and older, and Y900 for children 11 and younger.

Itoman Peaceful Illumination runs through January 3rd at Itoman Peace Memorial Park. Admission is \200. Peace Memorial Park also hosts the Mabuni Fire and Bell Festival New Year’s Eve. The 7:40pm program is free. A countdown and fireworks also takes place at Peace Memorial Park, with admission \200 for adults and high school students. Junior high school and elementary schools students are free.

Other New Year’s Eve offerings include Countdown Okinawa ’06; Asia Child Support Charity Live, at Okinawa Children’s Land Park. Tickets to the 5:30pm concert are \3,500 for adults and \2,000 for students. Happy New Rock Year is at Tembus Hall in Naha City, where tickets to the 10:30pm show are \2,000. The Witchwork Countdown starts at 9pm at Club mnD in Naha.

Admission is free.

Satsuko Yafuso and Jazz Trio are performing a Happy New Year Jazz Night at 6pm New Year’s Eve and again on New Year’s night at Kariyushi Urban Resort in Naha City. Tickets are \3,500. Countdown Party and New Year Special Events run New Year’s Eve through January 3rd at Hotel Beach Tower Okinawa in Mihama. Admission is free.

Okinawa Ocean Expo Memorial Park New Year Festival runs January 1st-3rd 9am-5pm, in Motobu. Admission is free.

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 ringing 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 for more eating and drinking and sharing with family.

Ring in the new year with the Shuri Castle New Year Bell Ringing Ceremony, which runs midnight to 1am at Tomoya court yard. Admission is \800 for adults, \600 for high school students, and \300 for junior high school and elementary students. Children under five are free. Shuri Castle New Year Banquet runs 9am-5pm at Una Forecourt, Lower Courtyard, January 1st-3rd.

Admission is \800 for adults, \600 for high school students, and \300 for junior high school and elementary students. Children under five are free.

Chine New Year Marathon kicks off at 9am New Year’s at Chinen, Nanjo City.

Nakijin New Year Road Race is another 9am event New Year’s Day at Nakijin Village.

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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