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Saturday, Jan. 24, 2004


Hogwarts School on Shiraishi Island

I don't know about you, but for me, last year was rife with bad luck and evil. Then, eureka! I realized why. I had simply not taken the proper precautions. There are plenty of Japanese remedies for keeping away bad luck and evil that I had failed to implement. After last year, I have suddenly become very superstitious.

All this came to light last week during the Tondo Matsuri on my island, the ceremony for burning all the New Year's decorations. What I like about the Tondo Matsuri is that it gives closure to New Year's events. This is unlike the United States, where some people think Christmas decorations should last until March. Christmas is just so permanent. We even have Christmas-in-July bargain sales and year-round Christmas shops. Some people even leave their Christmas lights up all year, only turning them on at Christmas time. This is perhaps because storing Christmas decorations involves a lot of packing and storing of boxes in hard-to-get-to places such as the attic or the basement.

Imagine, instead, throwing all those decorations into a fire every year for permanent storage. The Tondo Matsuri took place at 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 15 around a large bonfire of "shimenawa," the rope decorations with a "mikan" inside of them that people hang on their doors. All the neighbors tossed the ropes into the fire and skewered the mikan on the end of bamboo poles to roast over the fire. Once the skin of the fruit turns black, you eat the warm pulp inside. It tastes like orange tea. Eating the mikan prevents you from catching a cold for an entire year! If only the pharmacies would take note and sell fruit instead of all that expensive cold medicine. The "dai-dai," fruit that goes on top of "mochi" "o-kazari," also was skewered, and the mochi was put between a split bamboo pole and was held over the fire to be roasted as well. No matter that this mochi is weeks old. The fire is bound to sterilize it.

The elementary school students came too, wearing the required school shorts, their legs all scratched up from dragging their fingernails across the itchy, parched skin. They threw into the fire their "shuji" scrolls of "kakizome," (first calligraphy of the new year). This calligraphy typically expresses the children's wishes for the new year, in characters such as "happiness" or "akarui kokoro" ("bright heart"). My only wish was that I had known about this custom so I could have written, "No more natto."

As the scrolls burn, if the wind picks up their paper sending it up into the sky, they will become good "kanji" calligraphers. No one said what would happen to the girl whose paper flew up into the sky, then headed straight for her, chasing her around the fire. Imagine being chased by the flame of your own calligraphy!

After everything was burned, however, we still weren't finished pushing our luck. One year of good health and good wishes would be followed by a potion of Harry Potter proportions, made by mixing the burned embers of the New Year's rope decorations with sea water, then auspiciously scattering this water around the perimeter of your house with a pine tree branch. I know it works, because I did it and no evil has dare to come my way yet.

So I feel quite protected against bad luck and evil. At least until Feb. 3. That's when, on Setsubun no Hi, marking the first day of spring, we chase evil out of the house by wearing scary masks, throwing beans and yelling, "Devil out!"

E-mail: amychavez2000@yahoo.com Web site: www.amychavez.com

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