Thursday, 2 January 2014

Naked ambition and bare necessities for 2014

“What religion is this?”
“It’s Shinto. It’s a kinda Japanese thing.”
“Right. What, er, what do we have to do?”
“You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to.”
“OK. But we want some of those lucky predictions for the year. Can you translate them for us?”

I love bumping into people we know when we’re just out and about. I’m not sure My wife does so much because it invariably means hassle for her. I think that’s why she refuses to go to our local hot spring bath. By all accounts it’s the best onsen hot spring bath this side of Tokyo and it’s within walking distance of our house. I happened to cycle past it today on my customary New Year’s Day bike ride round the local Teganuma marsh (pictured above) and it was heaving. Even the overflow car park was full. But not of course with our car.

“I love having a hot steaming bath. You are not truly clean unless you have had a bath. And onsen are wonderful.”
“Then we really should go to the one just over the bridge in Teganuma…”
“There is no way I’m going to have a public bath so near our house…”
“Because there is no way I’m going to discuss the weather with my neighbour or her daughter’s grades in English while my nipples are poking about and there’s nothing but a hand towel between us.”
“I thought Japanese don’t mind public nudity when bathing?”
“We don’t. As long as we don’t know who we’re having a bath with.”
“So, bathing with perfect strangers is preferable to bathing with friends?”
“Of course.”
“OK. I think I get it.”

But I don’t pretend I get it about Japanese and religion. Or at least, my wife and religion. As far as I can tell, you don’t have to do anything much except clap your hands at the shrine on January 1st, offer a wish for the new year and generally respect the idea that there are greater powers than you abroad in the world and you’d best be a little respectful of coincidence, chance and such because, well, you never know, right?

I can go along with that. As could the family of Hindus who asked my wife for spiritual advice at the local Shinto shrine. At least, I’m assuming they are Hindu. They run our local Nepalese restaurant and as I recall they have a calendar on the wall that features a half-woman-half-elephant so I figure they are Hindu, but I could well be wrong. One man’s deity is another man’s devil and all that.

Anyway, my wife dutifully translated their 300-yen predictions for 2014 (two excellents, one pretty good and four averages) for them.

And that was my first day of 2014 in Abiko.

I sincerely wish you a happy new year, wherever you find yourself.