Today I’d like to share my thoughts with you on a New Year’s celebration that’s particularly close to my heart: Hatsuhinode. Now, I’m totally aware that there might be more than a few of you who haven’t heard of this distinctly non-western custom, so don’t panic if you’re scratching your head a bit and worrying that you haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about.
New Year’s Day tends not to be a particularly well-celebrated holiday in the States, Australia, the UK and other parts of the western world. On the whole we prefer the revelries of New Year’s Eve: getting our sparkle on, sipping champagne and counting down to midnight surrounded by friends and family. I’d even go so far to suggest that a lot of us spend the early hours of January 1st tucked up in bed, feeling a bit worse for wear.
Which is why I’m sure many of you are raising your eyebrows at the thought of being up and about at the crack of dawn on New Years Day.
What is Hatsuhinode?
Unlike over here, in Japan it is New Year’s Day that holds greater importance. Younger generations have begun to adopt the idea of counting down until midnight, but on the whole it is January 1st that gives cause for celebration and families coming together. People like to wish each other good luck for the year ahead and much of the celebrations surrounding the January 1st focus on “firsts”.
It is very traditional to mark the first temple or shrine visit of the year, write a loved one a first letter and even celebrate your first laugh, which is a lovely thing in itself! Who wouldn’t feel better for beginning the year with a smile on their face?
But perhaps the most lovely of all the Japanese New Year traditions is the act of celebrating the first sunrise of the year, and that is what Hatsuhinode means. People gather together all across the country, throughout the big cities and the tiny villages, to find the best spots to watch the first light of the year break through the clouds.
I’ve celebrated two Hatsuhinode now, in 2012 and 2013. The first was in Japan itself, from the top of a tower block in the heart of Tokyo. The second was a touch more down to earth, from the cliffs at Beachy Head in Eastbourne.
Why is it so special?
In the western world we’ve got our hearts in the right place. We plan to make the most noble of new years resolutions, but when we wake up like bears with sore heads on the morning of January 1st, it’s not surprising that we often start off on the wrong foot.
Imagine instead starting the new year with a clear head and a clear vision: beginning 2014 focussing on what you want to achieve during the year and allowing yourself some quiet, uninterrupted space to contemplate these thoughts.
There’s one thing for certain: you can’t rush a sunrise.
Whether you celebrate it alone, with a loved one or even in a big group, Hatsuhinode is a beautiful thing. I always think it’s surprising to see how people place emphasis on catching the first sunrise – it’s like joining a fleeting community when you arrive up in the pitch black to wait and before long you’re surrounded by a small handful of others. You’ll be surprised to find you’re not alone, even if you’re celebrating it outside Japan.
And what about me? How will I be spending it this year? There’s a terrace on top of the boat next to mine, so I think I’ll be taking a blanket, a sleeping bag and a cup of tea and sitting up there to watch the first ray of sunlight split through the dark of Old Year’s Night.
On New Year’s Day last year I bought a solar jar to catch the first rays of sunlight from the first day of the year. I made a promise that I would try and do the same every year for as long as I possibly could. There’s something very poignant about taking the fresh, unspoilt light of January 1st with you throughout the rest of the year, knowing that whatever it brings, you’re always allowed to open your eyes each morning and say “this is a new day”.
Happy New Year to you all, and the best of luck for 2014.