Anyone out and about on the streets of Japan through today and yesterday will have no doubt been struck by the sudden restoration of normality with New Year festivities earlier in the week maybe, already, seeming like a distant memory. The waves of worshippers heading to temples and shrines that were a common sight in most towns and cities at the beginning of the week, were replaced by workers heading towards their offices; coffee shops, restaurants and shops were that little bit quieter on either side of lunchtime, and rush hour trains were once again operating to full capacity.
With all this in mind you could easily be forgiven for thinking that festivities to mark the arrival of 2017 are done and dusted with for this year; only they aren't. Most people may have returned to their everyday routines but the importance and significance of the arrival of the new year still looms very large, meaning there are still a sizeable number of New Year rituals and celebrations either ongoing or still yet to be performed. Here's a snapshot glance at three of them.
1)Tondo Bonfire Ceremonies.
Tondo is a fire burning ritual usually held on, or around the 15th of January in order to burn the various New Year decorations that have been on display in homes, businesses and in some public spaces since late December.
In Japan, it's considered extremely bad luck to just toss spiritual items into the trash, so Shinto shrines across the country play host to huge bonfires where New Year decorations, charms and other lucky items are burnt on mass to the theme of forgetting about the past and approaching the future with a clean slate.
Mima City in Tokushima Prefecture is said to be home to the country's largest Tondo bonfire.
2) Toka-Ebisu Festivities.
On January the 10th millions of business owners will flock to shrines dedicated to Ebisu (God of good fortune, prosperity and commerce) to pray for prosperity and to purchase lucky bamboo branches, known in Japanese as 'Fukusasa'. Once purchased, Fukusasa branches are blessed by shrine maids, before being decorated with various symbols and talisman encouraging wealth and prosperity for the year ahead.
As with most festivals in Japan, attendance at Toka -Ebisu festivals is not just restricted to business owners; many casual observers also go along just to soak up the electric atmosphere. The country's most famous Toka -Ebisu festival takes place at Imamiya Ebisu shrine in Osaka over a three day period.
3) Tokyo's Hashigo-nori Acrobatics.
Many temples and shrines also engage with the New Year festivities by playing host to their own unique traditions. One of the most eye catching examples of which is the Hashigo-Noro festival which takes place at Tokyo's Ikegami Honmoji temple on the second Monday of each year.
The festival was born during the Edo period, and celebrates the efforts and methods of firefighters from that era; the festival is most notable for its impressive and elaborate, bamboo ladder-based acrobatic performances.
Note: Both images courtesy of Wikipedia Creative Commons.