Kadomatsu - Bamboo is for strength and pine for longevity. The three shoots represent heaven, humanity and earth. They are usually placed on either side of an entrance representing man and woman.
New Years is Japan's most important holiday celebrated for 3 days. It's a time for wiping the slate clean and starting fresh. I believe they make their resolutions at the shrines and temples, and they ALL go and pray for good health and fortune, something we all look forward to. It's more of a custom than a religious thing. Instead of Christmas cards, they send New Year's cards. They have their traditional foods that are all prepared ahead of time so that come the New Year they are relaxing, not working, and having a quiet peaceful time with family. Kate desperately wanted me to buy two of the traditional foods, mochi (for pounded rice balls) and soba noodles. Apparently the rice after it is prepared takes a long time to eat. You chew and chew and chew. So, I looked for that for about a minute, didn't find it. I did buy the soba noodles. Soba noodles are eaten in hope that your life is as long as the noodles. Mine are still in the package on the counter. I went with the traditional southern American dish and prepared black-eyed peas. As I write this 10 hours later, the soup is not finished. Hmmm. First time with my slow-cooker in Japan - it must be REALLY slow. Our electronics are not quite up to speed here. I am going to be up for a while.
On New Year's Eve, instead of the ball dropping they ring the bell at the Buddist temples 108 times. Each bell represents an earthly passion that the people need to overcome in order to attain enlightenment. That's a lot of passion. At the popular Meiji Shrine, 3 million people will visit over the 3 day holiday. No, we won't be 5 of that 3 million.
We were invited to an open house (a family from Connor's preschool) on New Year's Day. Although our neighbors in our building didn't have the same age kids, this open house did. It was an extra treat. We had a really nice day/evening talking, eating, drinking, meeting people all with their own interesting story from their travels in the world. Between the 5 or so families there, we were from or had lived in France, London, Egypt, Turkey, Japan, US including Alaska, Colorado, Arizona, California, DC, NY, and of course Minneapolis. I am beginning to see how people catch the expat bug.