What New Year's Like in Japan

New Year, New You? 2020 burst your bubble, didn't it? It made you realize that even your prized Starbucks planner worth 18 stickers (18 cups of coffee), won't ensure your plans would come to pass. And we all know the other part of the New Year's Drill: beginning of the year workout, long list of resolutions, new hair, new house, new relationship, new job, new business. It's not unusual, because even in Japan, which doesn't really celebrate a LOOOOOONG CHRISTMAS SEASON like in the Philippines, where I come from (September to February), new year is a big thing. In fact, on New Year's Day, people wake up early in the morning to get to a beach or a temple, even on a cold winter morning. The Japanese call it "hatsuhinode."

Beaches are usually in the Shonan Area, or Kanagawa. It's about one hour away from Yokohama, where I used to live. But since I moved to Tokyo, the trip demanded a two-hour travel, which had to commence at 4:30 A.M!

I have been doing this tradition for a few years, and have usually written my faith goals over the first breakfast of the New Year. I love the beach, and sunrises, and sunsets, and I feel closest to my Maker amid the crashing waves and the dawning light.

As for the Japanese, they have been observing "hatsuhinode" for another reason: for luck. It is believed that welcoming the first day of the year in the temple or by the sea would cause an auspicious year. If I did believe that this would apply to my life, well, save for 2020, my previous years 2017-2019 were not very lucky. They were my toughest years (jobs started and ended, people came and left, things began and never finished). I did go to "hatshinode" in those years. I did pray. I did hope things to change. I did all the things that "must be done."

But I am reminded on why everybody is simply drawn to the first sunrise. Everybody wants a SYMBOL OF HOPE. A MARK OF A NEW THING. Everybody wants some semblance of change. Some manifestation of a restart. Some tangible sign for a new chance in life. Who doesn't want that, right? Especially if the previous year had everything crumbling. Especially if the previous year tore you into pieces and left you with nothing. Especially if in the previous year, everything was happening NOT ACCORDING TO PLAN. But I had to revisit what a SUNRISE is in the first place. A SUNRISE is something unforced. Something that comes by itself. Something that breaks in not according to my prompt, my work, and my efforts. Sure, meeting the sunrise takes my effort, but the experience of the sunrise is never in my hands. Meeting the sunrise is required of me, but the showing up of the sunrise, is not of me. It is a blessing bestowed upon me.

New things in life: plans, businesses, relationships, or a complete DO-OVER in life is something I need to show up for, but ultimately, it is something that only the MAKER OF THE SUNRISE could bless me with. I can labour all I want, pray all I want, do all the good things, lucky things, and "good karma"things, but they just won't do. Because if blessings, like sunrises, were something of my control, then they diminish the sovereignty of the One who created them all. SUNRISE is all but a symbol of HOPE and NEW BEGINNINGS. But why not go straight to the source of hope and new beginnings? Sunrises are beautiful, breathtaking, and moving. But isn't it more powerful to go to the One who created these things? Often we keep our "good traditions" to make ourselves feel good, but we know deep in our hearts that things would not change. Why? Because deep within us, we often remain in the gloom, in the disbelief, in the same cycles of defeat, fear, anger, and loss. Deep within us lie hopelessness and awareness of our failures and limitations. So while we labor externally, we struggle internally, because we have not permitted a NEW THING WITHIN us. The dawn of the NEW LIGHT needs to first do its work in the dark recesses of our souls, do its healing in our hearts, do its illumination in our minds and spirits, and bring light to the path our eyes must see, in order to know how and where to move forward during the year.

Let me burst the bubble again: a first sunrise, as it is for many of your New Year Mantras, is wonderful, but it could not change your entire year. It could not lead you to navigate away from the same crippling cycles that held you last year. But the Maker of the First Sunrise and the many million mornings can lead you to the LIGHT that leads, restores, heals, and stirs you to new beginnings. What a promise to keep, from the Maker of the First Sunrise: See, I am doing a new thing!

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness

and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19

Mount Fuji showing up across the rising sun.

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