Haiku writers in Japan have five seasons to choose from when writing their poetry – with New Year’s Day being considered a season all of its own. William J Higginson in his 1996 book The Haiku Seasons (Kodansha International) has this to say:
“In the old calendar [New Year’s Day] was about the beginning of spring, and considered a doubly auspicious day. Now moved to January 1 as a result of the new calendar, New Year’s Day is still treated as the beginning of spring by some haikai poets.”
April is such a busy time in Japan – cherry blossom viewing, the start of the new school year, people changing jobs and homes – and before 1873 it was also the start of the year! (Spring seems a much more logical time to celebrate a new year, doesn’t it?)
In readiness for New Year’s Day Japanese people clean their houses (oosoji / susuharai):
gokugetsu ya hako kaidan no usubokori
year-end month —
thin layer of dust
on the box steps
– Keiji Ishida
from Blue Willow Haiku World, translator Fay Aoyagi
New Year’s Day
dawns clear, and sparrows
tell their tales
– Hattori Ransetsu, 1654-1707
from The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse, translators Geoffrey Bownas & Anthony Thwaite
Yuzu is a kind of citrus that in Japan is not only used for culinary purposes but on the winter solstice whole fruit are a vital ingredient … in a hot bath, whether at a public onsen (hot spring) or at home. The aromatic oils released from the skin of the fruit are not only said to protect from colds and flu, but are also good for chapped skin. Read more here.
Or you could try the annual New Year’s Day ice bath held at a shrine in Tokyo – although the photos in the link show men only, women also participate while wearing a thin, white robe.
The first sunrise of the new year is believed to have special significance and praying at sunrise for health and happiness is widespread.
it’s play for the cranes
flying up to the clouds
the year’s first sunrise …
– Chiyo-ni, 1703-75
from The British Museum Haiku, translator David Cobb
Japanese attach special significance to the first of many things they do in a new year. Some traditional firsts that are notable are kakizome (first writing), hatsuyume (first dream), hatsumōde (first shrine visit), hakizome (first house cleaning), and hatsuburo (first bath). Read more about the many traditions here.
the first dream of the year —
I keep it a secret
and smile to myself
from The British Museum Haiku, translator by R H Blyth
Dondoyaki (about January 15) ends the New Year observances when people take last year’s talismans and New Year decorations to their local shrine where they are burned (so no symbolic fir/pine trees hanging around until April!).
- This posting is dedicated to the memory of two lovely men lost to the world of haiku and renku in these past 12 months – John Carley and Martin Lucas, both of Lancashire in England.
remembering those gone
thankful to be here —
pond of purple iris
– Margaret Chula
from Haiku Mind by Patricia Donegan
Horikiri iris garden by Hiroshige, 1857 (Wikimedia)