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    From those of us whose hangovers are already gone…


    Which is to say, “Happy New Year! I ask your continued favor.” Okay, that’s one of those clunky-literal translations I generally try to avoid–but, see, the thing is, the Japanese have a different expression for “Happy New Year” now that it is the new year. I mean, the one above is the different expression from the anticipatory one you use in December. That’s 良いお年をお迎え下さい (clunky-literal translation: “May you greet a good new year”). In the sentence at the top of this post, the 明けまして part is the verb meaning “has dawned” or “[morning] has broken.” It’s the same kanji as is used to mean “bright,” though, so the New Year greeting has always had a sweet hint of “Good morning, sunshine!” to me.

    And, in Tokyo, at least, the clouds have lifted, yesterday’s snow/sleet/slush/yuck routine is over (for now), and it’s gorgeous out. Perfect weather for the traditional New Year’s cleaning–which explains why I decided to park myself in front of the computer and check the news and my messages and have now ended up composing a blog post. But never you fear. On this day of new beginnings, surfaces will be washed with hot bleach-water, items will be returned to their rightful drawers, electrical cords and lightbulbs will be checked, and bedding will be sun-fluffed. You know, starting in just a minute or so.

    I was looking for a season-appropriate poem to post, but for a dilettante like me, there are problems. The new year according to which the poems of the classical canon were written is in February, so those that are actually appropriate to this point in time have a wistful, year-end feel. Those poems with the sense of a fresh start in the new year are full of references to the beginning of spring, which for obvious reasons feels a bit off.

    However, since the Japanese spring in the Heian Period began before the vernal equinox, anyway, I’m going to take the liberty of repairing yet again to the Shinkokin-shu and enlisting the aid of the Princess Shokushi. Actually, I wish all dilemmas in life could be solved by enlisting the aid of the Princess Shokushi–it would make for a much more aesthetically pleasing existence–but we must content ourselves with capitalizing on such opportunities as present themselves. Anyway:



    yamabukami / haru tomo shiranu / matsu no to ni / tae-dae kakaru / yuki no tamamizu

    Deep in the mountains
    My cabin door of pine planks
    knows nothing of spring
    But melting snow now and then
    slides down with a gem-like flash
    –The Princess Shokushi

    Okay, fine, so there’s actually more cold weather to come in 2005–I told you the poem didn’t fit the solar year. What strikes me as apposite about it (it’s the first of many for the Princess Shokushi in the Shinkokin-shu) is the sense that new beginnings don’t always announce themselves explosively. They creep up on you, the way the year begins with an arc in the sweep of the second hand, just like any other top of the hour.

    Once again, Happy New Year to everyone. Special thanks and good wishes to our troops and to the Japanese SDF for working to keep us safe and help others achieve what we have, and to their families for enduring chaotic lives to help them do it.

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