but the sound keeps coming
out of the flowers.
New Year’s is the most important holiday of the Japanese year. People return to their provincial hometowns, clean and purify their homes, prepare special foods, and go to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples either on New Year’s Day itself, or, more ambitiously, at midnight as the New Year turns, for the 108 tolling strokes —slow, prolonged, and deep— of the great log striker against the vast bulbous bronze “bell.” Each stroke corresponds to one of the 108 “worldly desires” that entangle human beings, and the tolling bells take away these “sins.”
All the “firsts” of the new year become important, including the “first laughter” (it’s good to start off the New Year with a smile) , the first dream, the first calligraphy, and perhaps the first haiku. Since the traditional Japanese New Year was later in the year than the current date, many haiku mention the beginning of spring. And since many of us in the Northeast U.S. already feel we also would like to look forward to the beginning of spring, this haiku by Basho is particularly appropriate, as is the photo —
Akemashite Omedetoo! Happy New Year!