Rebecca Suzuki ◆ January 16, 2017
I have now moved back to New York from Japan, and I had quite the hiatus from this blog because I was trying to sort things out… In other words, I was unemployed and struggling (let’s just say I had two internships: one paid minimum wage; the other zero!). Before you start sending me sympathy cards though, I just want to reassure you all that I’ve since found something that I enjoy and because of that, I feel like I’m comfortable enough to begin writing regularly on Resobox again and also continue exploring my Japanese roots, even though I’ve left the magical country that is Japan.
So, enough of the boring stuff: let’s get to the point here.
Now that New Year’s is over, I find that it’s a great time to talk about New Year’s! Okay, if you’re rolling your eyes, I kind of deserve it because it is now mid-January and way past New Year’s. But to be fair, most people in Japan just got back to work (they have a long break from work for Oshogatsu), and I am still eating New Year’s mochi at my house. (But really I just procrastinate and don’t do a very good job of pacing myself sorry).
From my recent experience of New Year’s in Japan, I’d say that the holiday is most comparable to Thanksgiving in the states. The family gets together, cooks a fancy meal, and enjoys each other’s company. Of course, there’s no turkey involved—side note: turkey is oddly rare in Japan. So rare in fact, that when my American/ Canadian friends in Japan and I made a Canadian Thanksgiving meal together, somebody had to order turkey from Russia on Amazon! Talk about sketchy. The person who ordered it was not present at the party making it even sketchier, but I ate it regardless and here I am, still alive and kicking, so I guess it wasn’t poisonous at least… Right, so anyway, New Year’s in Japan, kind of like Thanksgiving in America. If you are curious (and you should be because I’m about to talk about food), for my New Year’s dinner at my Japanese aunt’s house two years ago, I had both Sukiyaki and Sushi. During the same meal. Are you reading this? Sukiyaki and Sushi. Unbelievable, I literally was on the verge of a panic attack because I didn’t know what to eat because well… Sukiyaki and Sushi. I’m just going to let your imagination run free on that one.
So, has New Year’s been massively disappointing ever since my return to America then? Well, my mom (who is Japanese) likes to keep the tradition up even though we’ve been living in the states for a while now. We don’t do the whole shebang—i.e., Ōsōji (pre-New Year’s grand cleaning, as in cleaning up your entire house to start the new year fresh and clean—cool concept, but not complaining about not keeping up with this tradition to be honest); Mochitsuki (making mochi, which involves beating mochi rice with a giant hammer over and over); eating Osechi (a special New Year’s Day meal that takes hours and hours of preparation), etc. What we did do though, was eat mochi dipped in soy sauce and wrapped in fresh seaweed sent to us from Japan, and calligraphy.
Well actually, calligraphy isn’t something that every Japanese household does on New Year’s. In fact, probably only the older members of the family still do it, but I have a Shuji (calligraphy) kit that I brought over from Japan (yes, I took calligraphy class after school as a child in Japan; yes, I was a dork get over it) and it just sits in my closet, so it became our tradition to write our New Year’s resolution in kanji with ink and a brush.
There’s actually a term for this in Japanese, and it’s called Kakizome. Usually, we each pick a word broad enough to encompass what we generally want to achieve for the year. When I was still a student, it was easy to pick: “Benkyou” or “Study” for my junior year of high school, when I really needed to pass those good old SATs. “Bouken” or “Adventure” for my junior year of college, when I was leaving to study abroad in London in the upcoming semester. “Shushoku” or “Career” for the year after, when I was about to graduate university and needed to find a job. It became trickier ever since I graduated from university, but last year, I wrote “Chokin” or “Savings” because I was getting sick and tired of being unemployed and on the verge of bankruptcy. This year, I found it a bit difficult to find a good word. I didn’t want to repeat anything I had written in the past, and I was no longer concerned with getting a job or money (well at least not bankruptcy, anyway). Somebody suggested “Ai” or “Love,” but I thought that was a bit cheesy, and um, all the romcoms say that you find love when you’re not trying to find it, so clearly, writing it as a resolution would be recipe for disaster! So, I decided to go with “Netsui,” or zeal. I chose it because I want to continue to have zeal for my job; for my career; for my friendships with others; for my hobbies; for bettering my life and myself. It all sounds a bit obnoxious now that I write it out, but I guess that’s the idea of Kakizome. It’s dramatic—we are literally putting what we want out of ourselves in permanent ink with a thick brush. Doesn’t get much more obnoxious than that, does it?
So, Netsui is now hanging up on the wall behind my bed. I see the two kanjis every time I enter my room. I know a lot of people scoff at the idea of New Year’s resolutions because let’s face it: who actually keeps them throughout the year? Or, if you want to change yourself, you don’t need a new year to motivate yourself! Of course these are great points, but seeing my Kakizome every day reminds me to keep my head in the right place and to go for what I want every day.