Thursday, 3 February 2011

Happy New Year Of the Rabbit

This post is also filed under way of tea and Decoding Kyoto.

Today, February 03, is the beginning of the New Year according to the lunar calendar, the one traditionally used in Asia.

Let me offer you some rice wine and let's drink a toast to a lucky new year. And yes, it will be a lucky one, since it is the year of the rabbit, and the rabbit is supposed to be a mayoke (魔よけ), a talisman against evil spirits. It is the rabbit's red eyes that wards them off .

So, it is not by chance that the Chinese character for the rabbit zodiac on the sake bowl above is written in red. (The character is different from the one for the animal, 兎.)

This and the following story I learned when I had the honour to attend Urasenke's hatsugama, the first tea ceremony of the year.

All the tea utensils were carefully selected to invite good fortune. Among them were several pieces that picked up on the rabbit theme. I particularly remember a mizusashi (water container) with a scene refering to a noh-theatre play called Chikubushima. While the protagonists cross lake Biwa to pray at the shrine on the Chikubushima island, the beauty of the scenery is praised, especially the reflection of the moon high above the lake: As if the rabbit of the moon is jumping over the waves.

It's not necessary to know that the Japanese see the silhouette of a rabbit in the texture of the moon -- this poetic image is simply enchanting.

So, when you come to Kyoto this year, look out for more images of the rabbit.

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