AKEMASHITE OMEDETO GOZAIMASU ! Happy New Year !
The New Year is celebrated in many forms throughout the world. The Chinese lunar New Year is a time for wild and noisy celebrating with fireworks and flamboyance. In the United States there is excitement and party and champagne in the air. The Japanese New Year, as so beautifully presented in the book, The Japanese New Year by Reiko Morinaga Brandon and Barbara Stephan, is a sacred and silent time of purification and renewal.
Even the usually cluttered Blue & White gets a real sweep, and a window wash and a tidy. Shoji are repaired, slippers and other tools of daily living are renewed and life begins afresh.
The traditional is not forgotten in Tokyo. Symbols of purification are everywhere. New Year’s rice straw ropes and door decorations are sold in each neighborhood. Doors are hung with New Years’ signs featuring the dragon this year.
At each shrine the ema, sacred painted wooded plaques with the animal of the New Year are on sale. Prayers are written on the back and they are hung at the shrine for the Gods to act upon. At our local Fukagawa Fudo Temple in Fukagawa, I found some enchanting handmade plaster foxes sitting on the steps to a small shrine in the inner compound. When I went to buy one, I found they were not for sale. You pay ¥1,000 to take one from the sales counter to the shrine steps and say your prayers (foxes are usually in charge of business matters) and leave them there. Now that is good business if I have ever heard of it.
Our Blue & White window each year is one of renewal and purification. This year 5 cuts of fresh green bamboo are stacked on each other and tied with a loose knot of red and white mizuhiki, paper cords. On a stool of twisted rice straw sits a symbolic red lacquer masu (box for measuring beans and other dry goods), old and venerable, we like to think. Not everything has to be new at Blue & White. God knows I’m not! In it is an arrangement of fresh pine boughs from our generous friend Takako Nishikawa who sent them from Kanazawa, and my favorite Nanten, Nandena, a winter flowering tree with delicate green leaves and bright red berries.
Behind the arrangement hangs an elegant Dragon quilt by our own Blue & White treasure Reiko Okunushi, born in the year of the dragon, for her husband, Tatsuo (Tatsu is dragon in Japanese). It is a spectacular quilt of triangular blue dragon scales made of yukata, and white, quilted with subtle and joyful white stitched dragons. as engaging on the white back as on the blue and white front. It is a work of silent and steadfast love mixed with joy and humor and incredible needlework that are Okunishi san’s signatures.
It is difficult to find charming Dragons this year. I search the offerings of tenugui and ema as well looking for a lovable dragon and come up wanting. Okunushi san has certainly cornered the market with her quilt, and a smaller applique dragon that we have featured in our monthly window display at the nearby iconic Hotel Okura. It is the most lovable dragon of all, made of old materials that she saves in her impressive cache of old materials.
I found a nice-ish Dragon ema, wooden prayer plaque at the ancient Edo period Kuma no Jinja Shrine in Karuizawa. It pictures a dragon with swirls of clouds/energy and has a dynamic that I find sadly missing in dragons these days.
But imagine our surprise when Rima Tashiro, our youngest and most beautiful Blue & White Sashiko student, came into the shop after we opened on January 5th with her own Dragon work. It is a Mottainai Dragon, made of scraps of all colors from our indigo dyer, who also dyes cloth using other natural vegetable colors. Too good to throws away, for Rima they are treasures and she made a fiercely charming 3 dimensional dragon that comes from some wonderfully free place inside her head that is wired to the universe. Apologizing that she had never seen a dragon, she offered this appliqued dragon that made us laugh and marvel. It was the coup de Dragon!
It hung in the window for two weeks and brought untold delight to passersby who stopped to stare.
Dragons are everywhere. But sadly most are computer generated and lacking in the energy and frolic I look for. I never found a perfect dragon tenugui for Blue & White. But finally, in the neighborhood next to our house, I found my favorite dragon.
He was pasted on all the doorways as a New Years’ greeting. I loved him! And I waited for the entire New Year season to be finished, and the official time for taking down the New Year’s decorations and burning them to purify them. I found one house that was late in taking theirs down and asked if I could have it. They kindly gave it to me, and I will save it for 12 years to have made into a Tenugui in the year 2024 – the next year of the dragon. Dragon power to you all in the New Year !