Monday, January 31, 2011

Kagami Biraki: Nippon Budokan, 10th January 2011

Peter Here;

As 2011 woke up from the winter holidays (Fuyu no Oyasumi), the annual ceremony of Kagami Biraki marked the Nippon Budokan's celebration of the new year on January 10, and the beginning of training. Takagi Sensei had again been asked to represent Karatedo by the Nippon Budokan with Arakawa Sensei since they are the official karate instructor's at the Nippon Budokan's Budo-Gakuen, and once again the Shiramizu group attended to take part in the group budo training session.

Everyone arrived at the Nippon Budokan for 11:30; well, everyone except yours truly- a horrendous misunderstanding about the pronunciation of 10:15 and 10:50 meant I arrived at Tobudobutsukoen station a tad later than I was supposed to (note to self: double check all times in writing in the future). However, the ceremony started at 12:30 and everyone including myself managed to be seated comfortably by the time it started.

The mochi breaking ceremony has been well covered by past interns, but a good further explaination to the mochi and embellishments can be found here:

The round rice cakes were shaped to resemble mirrors because mirrors have been revered in Japan since ancient times and are believed to be receptacles of the gods. You might have seen mirrors set up inside the main halls of a Shinto Shrine. For the New Year, a smaller mochi is usually placed on top of a larger one (sometimes there are 3 mochi cakes in a stack). Sometimes the Kagami-Mochi are further embellished with significant decorations such as a citrus called a daidai (which is a homophone for generation after generation), a spread open folding fan (to symbolize the spreading of your seed), kelp (konbu), which is a near homophone to YOROKOBU (to enjoy). There might also be other plants (all with symbolic meanings) and folded red and white paper (to keep out impurities) used to decorate the mochi.

The reason the hard mochi is broken and not cut is that the SAMURAI avoided using the word CUT, as well as the symbolic action of cutting, especially around New Year’s. Thus a knife is not used, And, even though the Kagami-Mochi is BROKEN, the word WARU (割る), to break, was also avoided (the SAMURAI did their best to avoid being cut or broken!). Instead, an IMI KOTOBA (忌み言葉), a euphemism, is used: hiraku (開く) to open. And thus this custom came to be known as KAGAMI-BIRAKI (鏡開き) the OPENING OF MIRRORS, which sounds very auspicious.

After the mochi breaking ceremony, we assembled outside for a photo shoot. It was pretty cold and windy, so we made it as quick as possible, and then headed inside for the budo demonstrations, or Embu. As was last year, 9 budo was represented at the ceremony: Shorinji Kempo, Aikido, Kyudo, Kendo, Naginata, Judo, Jukendo, Sumo and of course Karate. Each demonstration lasted about 15 minutes and boasted the best aspects of each art: Kempo showed it's Chinese origin with its circular attacks, Aikido demonstrated the use of your opponent's power and the elegance of technique, Kendo was graceful and spiritual, Kyudo displayed incredible focus... each demonstration had superb and enviable qualities.

Karate's demonstration came courtesy of the JKF women's kata team, and the Japan University Championships male team kata champions, with a wonderful performance and bunkai of Kururunfa and Unsu.

The group training followed, with participants from each of the 9 budo styles taking part on the floor. The massive Taiko sounded the beginning and end of the practice, and the twenty minutes between was filled with shouts and enthusiasm, the biggest coming from the Karate area! There aren't the words to describe the feeling of the training- motivation and determination permeated the hall, driving everyone on. Sadly, the taiko signalled the end of the training just as everyone was getting into the swing of it; 20 minutes wasn't enough, even for the kids!

After the training, the 'opened' mochi from the Samurai ceremony was offered in Oshiruko - sweet red bean soup - along with an offering of Sake for the adults. Sake is potent stuff, so after Okano san kindly refilled my glass with his sake offering I could only sip a couple of times before leaving it!

On the journey home Arakawa sensei and I talked about the new year's plans, about the new dojo in Satte, my Shodan test, practising English and Japanese, and where I should start training from next April. We also admired the setting sun, nestling behind Fuji-san in a picture-postcard scene. Inspiring Stuff.

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