Thursday, March 3, 2011

a chance to catch your breath and calm your nerves

I attended the Chinese New Year celebration in Kobe’s Chinatown about a month ago. There was a list of performances and events, and I heck, I enjoy a good nikuman as much as a bit more than the next guy, not to mention the fact that I'm pretty taken with calendars and season changes and measurements and all that.

This year's lunar new year actually coincided with the Japanese celebration Setsubun, which is what I call "halfway back." This is when the sun is halfway back from the solstice in the direction of equinox. So basically, a holiday based on solar calendar lined up with a holiday based on the lunar calendar. I think that's pretty cool, and maybe like a good omen or something.

Lion Dance, Jan. 30th 2011
From 2011_01_30

There were events in Kobe on the Sunday before the 3rd, as well as all weekend following. I went to the "dragon and lion" parades on the early Sunday. It was a cold day, and snow started to fall halfway through the dance. I have a particular connection to the lions, because I think they are shishi. 

They also had blinking eyes and spent some time munching on the crowd by way of bestowing good luck!
From 2011_01_30

I may have written of this before, but they resemble a creature that visited me a in a dream more than ten years ago (before I knew anything about them, really). I later read about the imagery of Shishi and found it to be really close to the behavior of the one in my dream.

From 2011_02_05

Shishi generally appear in pairs at the gates of things. They are related to the Shisa of Okinawa, but end up a little different in appearance. Shisa pairs will have one with an open mouth (a) and one with a closed mouth (m). Shishi pairs will have different things under their paws. The female (I think.. this is just coming from memory) will have a cub under her foot, while the male will have a ball. The underfoot cub is not being crushed or killed, but rather pushed, that it will become stronger. The Shishi is a rough parent but a fierce protector; in my dream, she threw me against a stone shrine wall, insisted she was "just fuckin' with ya," and promised to look after me for good. I like seeing Shishi and Shisa alike because they're pretty cool symbols.

From 2011_01_30
From 2011_01_30

One of the luckiest icons, though, is the dragon. Dragons are often seen paired with phoenixes in royal iconography. I saw two different dragons parade in the Motomachi area of Kobe on that Sunday (the 30th of January).

From 2011_01_30

On the following Saturday, Nankinmachi (Kobe's Chinatown) was totally packed. I managed to find my friends eventually, and after watching some acrobatics from afar (which, by the way, were astonishing.. this blue-spandex-clad guy did not so much as tremble while he slowly lifted his body through all manner of contortions high above the crowd on stacked wooden chairs!), we decided to get out of the cold and have a drink and a snack. Snacks on the street are excellent in Nankinmachi, but they only warm your hands for the thirty seconds it takes to consume them.

From 2011_02_05

Along the way, we passed a little tent where people were lined up to go offer prayers or wishes and light large sticks of incense (joss sticks) and be greeted by creepily made-up pigs and other characters. I made up my mind instantly that I wanted to do it, and once we had hung out in a pub for a while, I started to proclaim that we should all "get blest!" .. eventually we left in time to see the dragon dance, but I got separated from the group and ended up the only one in line. The others went on to get good seats for viewing the dragon dance.

I waited a little in line, and then when it was my turn, I went up to make my wish(?) and get my picture taken with the brightly clad attendants. I handed my camera to the camera guy and went up to the little temporary shrine. After I had bowed and concentrated on my intentions, I turned to get my photo snapped so I could put the incense in the burner area and go find my friends. But they held me back. Wait a moment, the dragon has to come through.

Can you find our heroine in this picture?
From 2011_02_05

Logistically, the way it was set up, the backstage area was behind the little pagoda-con-shrine, and the stage was right in front of it. People going onstage have to pass the entrance of the shrine. So the dragon was coming through. I was quite pleased. It also happened to be a familiar dragonly face that appeared for this. Double awesome. I signalled the guy holding my camera to take pictures of what was happening, and the dragon dance began.

From 2011_02_05

But that dragon didn't just pass by the entrance of the shrine. It stopped in front of it. Then put its head in there with me. Twice. I had no idea that was going to happen, and I could not have orchestrated that had I tried, but basically I got blessed by a Chinese dragon at the New Year celebration. I think it's a pretty good omen, don't you?

From 2011_02_05

I received an astrology guide to this year from one of my adult students. It's all in Japanese, so I can't really understand most of it, but I did eventually find that according to that, too, it's supposed to be a very good year for me.

It's the year of the Rabbit, the Yin Metal Rabbit to be exact. From what I've heard, rabbit years are always kind of chances to catch your breath after the hectic intensity of the Tiger (but, I guess, before the Dragon which follows?). I thought this was great because even before I knew this, I had made decisions about 2011 that led in this direction. My New Year's Resolution not to do less, but to at least not do more is part of it. I chose to stay in Japan and just plod along for another year, because honestly, the amount of adventure I have and have had lately is enough. I'd become tired of worrying about the future and just wanted to hang out, watch the snow, learn more Japanese, get better at Shorinji, get better at my job, publish more Hyogo Times, and take more calls on PSG. I wanted, this year, to get a handle on all the things I have going on, without needing to go bigger or better.

So if it's a memorable year, if it's an exceptional year, it'll be the little things, maybe. I don't see it as a year of big glittery changes or explosive joys. I see it more like the quiet happiness of having cleaned out the closet. Even when you can't see it, it's satisfying to know it's clean, and that you did it.

Metal sounds a bit sharp and tangy.. but yin is the softer side, the darker side, the restful side. So maybe "relax" is the tall order of the year, and maybe I've gotten a whole lot of good omens suggesting that, despite the difficulty of really doing that, I might just get myself there this year.

The whole move back to America and start a new life (aaagain) thing can wait for the strength of the Yang Water Dragon..!

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