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When the Clock Struck 12 in Okinawa

By: Jena Maddalino

Date Posted: 2000-01-08

The New Year began in Okinawa with local residents gathering at temples and shrines to make their first pilgrimage of the New Year. The Futenma Jingu Shrine was especially crowded as residents came to make wishes for good luck and to get their fortunes read. The side streets were packed with a stalls offering a wide variety of foods and carnival-like games. Even though it was late in the evening, families could be seen entering the temple gates with small children to catch some of the good luck for the year 2000.

Various food booths, game booths and vendors lined the street, adding to the festive atmosphere of the night. And the New Year was not complete without a taste of Yakisoba or some other local treat.

Visits to shrines are important in the lives of the Okinawan people, regardless of whether they are religious or not. Not only do they make visits to their local shrines, they also make special trips to pay homage to distant shrines in Tokyo or Kyoto. But of all such visits to shrines, the most important is Hatsumairi, or first visit, which is made during the New Year, from January 1st through the 3rd. Because the most important aspect of Hatsumairi is to pray for a happy New Year filled with good luck, the traditional visit the Shrine or Temple is quite significant to the people.

At many temples or shrines, starting just before midnight, temple bells are rung 108 times (8 times in the old year and 100 times in the new), for the 108 sins of man - a Buddhist belief.

The New Year is also a very important time for families and couples - many groups of families could be seen at the Jingu shrine, dressed up for the occasion. Relatives from distant locations return to Okinawa, if born here, to join their families for the celebration. The New Year most importantly symbolizes a fresh start for people, as the past is forgotten.

When asked what hopes he had for Okinawa in the year 2000, a local resident responded without hesitation. I hope that the Year 2000 will be a lucky year for Okinawa and that we will have a stronger economy.

At the shrine, residents purchased special charms to protect their happiness and to bring good luck for the New Year. Placed in cars, they can also be used to ward off accidents. Fortune telling is also a popular event, and this year, the Shrine offered fortunes in English too. While reading one's fortune, it is the custom to tie a little piece of paper to a tree. But now, instead of a tree, strands of string are hung for the same purpose. The New Year celebration seemed to be all about luck!

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