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Japanese New Year

Although January 1st is now past, New Year's celebration (called O-shogatsu, oh-shoh-gahtz-zoo) in Japan extends well into the entire first week of the month. It is one of the most respected national holidays with a central theme of appreciation and reflection.

Of course, January 1st is the peak of the celebration in much the same way as it is in the West; delicious foods such as a condensed sticky rice called "mochi" (pronounced moh-chee) most often served with sweet red beans and selected set of foods called osechi (o-seh-cheee) served in traditional, stacked boxes as well as standard drink like sake and beer are part of the festivities, but just like the food and drink and duration of the New Year's celebration, the depth of the holiday is also extensive in meaning.

One significant act performed for shogatsu is paying respects to one's ancestors and giving thanks for the previous year's good fortune, but another, more social activity is visiting a Buddhist shrine. The latter is, again, to thoughtfully reflect on the previous year's bounty, but, more importantly, to consider the year to come. This may be done by requesting high marks on entrance exams (in most cases for students), better luck with work, or focusing on a goal for the year to come- this means not simply making a tradition "resolution", but also clearing the mind to set the tone for the entire year.

Often, a visit to the shrine will involve a small donation of 5-yen (about .05 USD), ringing a bell, clapping the hands together twice, and, while holding them together as if in prayer, focusing on the thought for the new year. As rituals go, it seems fairly simplistic, but the component most notable and far-reaching are thoughts for the new year.

As traditions go, food, drink, and resolutions are a part of celebrating the New Year. However, when doing so we can easily sabotage our immediate physical state (with heartburn and/or a hangover) or creating an opportunity to easily disappoint ourselves if we fall short of our New Year's resolution. As such, perhaps for a more successful new year, an attitude of moderation should be observed; not merely in what we consume physically, but what we also offer our mind and spirit for consumption.

For example, although losing weight or quitting smoking are healthy and responsible goals, they are also quite specific and can be somewhat strict with regards to success or failure. But, by making a general or somewhat vague intention for the new year, it is easier and more flexible to manage. A goal that is flexible may be easier to remain committed to maintain instead of abandoned when we step off the path with strict guidelines and outcomes.

Just as the Japanese New Year holiday celebration extends well into the first week of the month, so to do the desires and goals. Therefore, for those of us who may wane from our resolutions in the future (if not already), perhaps consider our goals as part of a process; a work-in-progress for the entire year.

As such, a flexible set of beliefs can be more rewarding and increase our chances of fulfilling our goals than strict beliefs and acts alone. Our beliefs and acts may ebb and flow, but they are neither success or failure- they are the evolution towards something new, and New Year's is not merely one day or one week, but an entire new year. 365 days for opportunity.

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