Another Way to Kick Off Y2K

Children play fukuwarai

Our American customs of getting drunk, getting loud, and cheering as the ball drops in Times Square seem downright heathen compared to the cultural invigoration of New Year's revelry in Japan. The Japanese consider the Oshogatsu New Year's celebration their most important yearly observance. It's a time for new beginnings, purity, and cleansing, and toward that end families give their homes a thorough cleaning and try to clear away old debts and obligations so they can start the new year fresh.

Because the holiday lasts three days, January 1 through 3, and businesses and schools are closed, many rituals have sprung up that are practiced only during the holiday. On Saturday the annual Oshogatsu Festival at the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach offers people of all cultures an opportunity to participate in traditional Japanese New Year's activities.

If you're feeling like letting off a bit of steam, head out onto the museum terrace and join in the "mochi-making." (Mochi are sticky rice cakes.) Cooked, soft rice in wooden bowls is pounded with large wooden mallets in order to make the rice sticky. Lumps of the tacky rice are then rolled into different shapes, which are filled with sweet beans before people pop the cakes into their mouths.


The Oshogatsu Japanese New Year celebration

Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, 4000 Morikami Park Rd., Delray Beach.

Saturday, January 8, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A concert by the Boca String Quartet begins at 11:30 a.m. Admission prices range from $3 to $5.25. Call 561-495-0233.

Back indoors a game of fukuwarai will be under way. The game is similar to pin the tail on the donkey, but in the Japanese version, cutouts of facial features are placed on the blank countenance of Otafuku, the goddess of happiness.

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In the lobby dragon kites will be made, because kites are traditionally flown at New Year's, and 2000 is the Year of the Dragon. The background about the naming of years will be revealed in stories about the Japanese zodiac and its 12-year cycle, which will be told several times during the daylong event. The most popular tale is about Buddha calling all the animals of the world to him on New Year's Day. Only 12 showed up, so each was honored by having a year named after it. It's believed that a person is born with the traits of the animal associated with his or her birth year.

Also throughout the day, you can practice calligraphy, watch the first tea ceremony of the new year, and use rubber stamps to make traditional New Year's postcards imprinted with messages in Japanese.

Finally, watch the Lion Dancer weave through the museum exorcising evil spirits, including any lurking within festivalgoers who need a soul-cleansing as we enter the new millennium.

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