By Avi Landau
O-Shogatsu, the Japanese New Year Festival, lasts for three days, and has thus already ended by January fourth. And though most people have gone back to their jobs and their regular routines by the 4th, the spirit of the festival lingers on as long as the KADO MATSU ( pine branches and often other plants placed on both sides of an entranceway) and other New Year`s decorations are still up. This period, which varies in length depending on what region you’re in, is called MATSU no UCHI (松の内)- literally, DURING THE PINES. In the Kanto Region ( where Tsukuba lies) this usually means 6 or 7 days, while in Kansai ( around Osaka and Kyoto) it is 14 or 15 days after New Year`s Day, a period which is known in that part of Japan as SHIMEH no UCHI (注連の内).
So even after the 3rd, if you feel that you have still not returned to the REAL, EVERYDAY, HUMDRUM world- its because the pines are still up. . Enjoy the mood while it lasts.
There will still be many people making their New Year`s visits to shrines or temples during this period. And until the 10th there are plenty who make pilgrimages along one of the numerous SEVEN GODS OF FORTUNE circuits ( SHICHI FUKUJIN MAIRI, 七福神参り)- two of the more venerable and popular such circuits in Tokyo ( the Yanaka Shichifukujin and the Sumidagawa Shichifukujin- both really interesting half day walking circuits) are easily reached from Tsukuba using either the TX or Joban Lines (see my previous post)
In Tsukuba (and the rest of the Kanto Area), the kado-matsu and other decorations will be removed (by many) on the morning of the 7th after NANAGUSA GAYU is eaten.
It is interesting that traditionally, the Japanese ( and other peoples as well), partake of a special meal to demarcate the separation between sacred (ハレ, hareh) and profane time (ケ, ke).