Welcome to Kiki+Koko: Let’s NihonGO!! Online, the blog, carefully crafted with care, capturing culture concisely. We’re your guides and the hosts of Culture Corner, Kiki and Koko! This article will be centred around hatsuyume. We will mention a few related holidays as well as do our best to include a few vocabulary words as to provide more insight into this yearly phenomenon. Without further ado, Let’s NihonGO!!
Bell tolls that cover city blocks, bald masseurs, and dream eating tapirs? If you’re interested in an enthralling ride through the culture surrounding the Japanese tradition of 初夢, hatsuyume, then you’ll be in store for quite an experience this lesson. We should begin by first examining what makes up the word: 初, hatsu, means first, or sometimes new in some cases, and 夢, yume, you may remember from our previous practise activity simply means dream. So, from this, 初夢, hatsuyume, simply means first dream. This is simply what one calls the first dream of the year in Japan. It’s not quite a holiday, but it is observed in a way during the holidays. However, there is much more than a simple definition to beginning to understand this practise. We’re going to begin with the basics which should be simple in itself, but will further immerse you in the culture surrounding 初夢, hatsuyume.
This tradition has an interesting discrepancy with dates. Originally, this occurred during the night of 2 January leading into the morning of 3 January. However, as the Western Gregorian calendar came into play along with the celebration of the New Year aligning with said calendar, people began to observe this as the night of 1 January leading into the morning of the 2 January.
Almost similarly to in Western culture, 31 December into 1 January was originally spent sleepless, so the first time in which a dream could properly take place was on the night of the 1 January into 2 January. Of course, this still sounds as though it favours the latter practise, but there is another discrepancy as it relates to the traditional Japanese calendar versus the Gregorian calendar. Calendars aside, there is another tradition that affects the date of this 初夢, hatsuyume.
The reason for the sleepless night of 31 December into 1 January would certainly be because of the 大晦日, oomisoka, —basically New Years Eve or great last day of the month, implying it’s the culmination of months’ ends— of 除夜の鐘, joya no kane, or the New Years Eve bells. At temples around Japan, 大鐘, oogane, great bells, are struck with a giant suspended beam, ringing out with its initial percussion, then further resonating with a low tone, slowly fading in harmonic overtones. This tone carries for kilometres, enveloping the area in its unique timbre.
This tradition sometimes begins at the stroke of midnight or in other areas, the 108th toll occurs exactly at midnight to literally ring in the New Year. It’s one of the earlier examples of ‘If you start [listening to] [this song] at [this time] then [this happens] at exactly midnight’ before The Internet even began. However, these 108 tolls represent the 108 human sins or mental states known as 煩悩, bonnou, otherwise known as kleshas, in Buddhism and the belief that the bells are a cleansing sound to sort of flush them out in the new year. The New Year, not unlike what we spoke about in our radio show concerning the new era, is seen as a time of renewal, and a clean slate. This really isn’t so different to the West in that feeling. But, also similarly to the West, this bath of sound, whilst a unique and important tradition in Japan, the number of tolls may take a toll on one’s sleep. There are so many Buddhist temples in Japan that, if you’re in a residential area, you’re very likely to hear them in place of Western fireworks on New Years morn.
On top of this, it’s usually after midnight that 年越し蕎麦, toshikoshi soba or うどん, udon, are eaten, otherwise known as year crossing soba (noodles) or udon (noodles), illustrating the passage into the new year. So, with these traditions alone, there is definitely quite a lot that would keep one awake at night, but that’s not the only reason to pull an all-nighter.
As an interesting Japan travel tip, as these New Year’s holidays are quite important, but also, of course, keep people awake at night, usually, most businesses are closed from 30 December till 3 January or 4 January. However, if you really need a stop at セブンイレブン, sebun irebun, (♪いい気分♪) or some select other shops, then you may still be in luck, seeing them open through the holiday, perhaps even late/early enough to see the first sunrise of the year.
Speaking of firsts, with a clean slate and a brand new shiny year, squeaky clean and ready to begin, firsts are one of the important traditions of the new year. In the land of the rising sun, it is popular to stay up to see 初日の出, hatsu hi no de, or the first sunrise of the year. This occurs on the first morning of 正月, shougatsu, or Japanese New Year. This actually covers the first three days of the month. In Okinawa, however, it’s celebrated on the traditional Chinese New Year. But, these three days as well as staying up to see the sun rise on a brand new year is definitely case enough to count simply your first sleep as your first proper time to dream.
And, with that, we’re brought to the topic at hand: What exactly is 初夢, hatsuyume?And, maybe even more precisely, why is it so important? Simply put, 初夢, hatsuyume, is simply the first dream of the year. However, the significance lies in the of the dream. It is believed in traditional Japanese culture that the subjects of this first dream are a window into the fortune of the coming year. What is most interesting is that there are very specific items that are auspicious for this first dream.
There is a sort of proverb, but more so in the way of a well known superstitious nursery rhyme, which is something that is common in the West to memorise these poems sort of like ‘If You Sneeze on Monday’ or more closely, something like ‘Counting Crows’ like ‘One for sorrow, two for joy, etc…’ It’s very interesting how Earth cultures seem to use this same style for many types of poems handed down through generations.
Anyway, there is a Japanese proverb that reads 「一富士二鷹三茄子」,「 ichifuji, nitaka, sannasubi」, meaning one fuji, two hawk, three aubergine. So, commonly, you’ll hear people wishing to dream of one of the first three most readily. Outside of the general auspicious symbolism of Mount Fuji, there are actually other reasons for these items being considered lucky first dreams. Most of these, as many things in Japanese culture, are tied to homophones. These other meanings are where the tone for the year is set. 富士, fuji, sounds like 不死, fushi, which means immortality. But, it is also the tallest mountain in all of Japan, which is symbolic of high reaching goals. 鷹, taka, sounds like 高, taka, for tall, high, or expensive, which can be though of as lofty goals. 茄子, nasubi, which for those in the states, may know these as eggplants rather than aubergine, actually has another form: 茄, nasu, which is homphonous with 成す, nasu, which can mean to accomplish, achieve, or succeed in something. That being said, the aubergine is actually one of the commonly sought after 初夢, hatsuyume. Though, these are the ones you’ll hear discussed most often, there are actually a few more.
Though the proverb continues, there are many different versions of it, but here’s one continuation: 「四扇、五煙草、六座頭」, yonsen, gotabako, rokuzatou, meaning four fan, five t*bacco, six blind masseur. The fan is meant to represent 末広がり, suegirogari, meaning both spreading out like an open fan and becoming prosperous. And, though t*bacco will cause some absolutely-awful health side effects in reality, in 初夢, hatsuyume, the rising of the smoke is meant to parallel the rising of your achievements to great heights! Now, what about number six? Well, as a quick mention: traditionally, acupressurists were blind and were believed to be able to find pressure points. But, more importantly, they traditionally were bald. And, bald, or 毛が無い, ke ga nai, has no hair, sounds like 怪我ない, ke ga nai, meaning no injury.
What if you didn’t see anything for your first dream? Well, then there is no first dream. You’ll see many on social media saying 「初夢見なかった」, hatsuyume minakatta, meaning ‘I didn’t [have / see] (my) first dream’. It’s nothing devastating, though, but it does make actually seeing one of these in a dream feel that much more lucky.
But, what if you had a bad dream, you may wonder? No one wants to start their year off on the wrong foot! Well, apparently, there is a risky way to get rid of these bad dreams so they don’t come true, but you risk giving away your good dreams, as well! 獏、baku, which also means tapir, the adorable long snoot-ed fuzzy wild piggies that look a bit like a fancy short-nosed, short-eared elephants wearing a black head-covering jumper and black trousers that sit a bit too low—we recommend looking up a Malayan tapir—well, it’s a Chinese chimera similar to that which some call to after a bad 逆夢, sakayume, or a dream that contradicts reality. People call out 「ゆうべの夢は獏にあげます」‘yuube no yume wa baku ni agemasu‘ three times to say ‘I give last night’s dreams to the baku’. Knowing they’re believed to even eat good dreams makes us more than a bit wary. But, we’re just the culture teachers, here, we can’t tell you to whom and to whom you should give your dreams to be eaten. But, be warned! No one wants their good dreams munched on.
Coincidentally, this is why the Pokemon named スリープ, suriipu, otherwise known in the West as Drowzee, looks a bit like a tapir! They’re directly referenced in the games and written as a descendent of the dream-eating 獏、baku, stating as early as generation 1: It puts its enemy to sleep and eats the victim’s dreams. Said to have descended from the legendary beast, Baku.
We’ve certainly travelled around many concepts and traditions of Japanese culture this lesson! No matter the time of year, it’s always a good time to keep your mind active, learn new things, and achieve new goals! Whether or not you dream of an aubergine, we’re sure with a bit of effort and time spanning over the year, you’ll be able to accomplish great things. Remember, learning is a journey, and if you rush through, you may not absorb the scenery and may get stuck at a wrong turn or caught in the thick of it. But, with many more lessons on the horizon, and many previous ones available for you to enjoy at any time, day or night, you can rest assured, we’ll be there for you, helping you every step of the way.
We wish you sweet dreams of Mount Fuji and fans. If you’ve already possibly had your first dream of the year, we’d love to hear about it! Tell us in the comments below, or even through any of our social media listed at the bottom of this lesson. Perhaps you’d like to make sure our dreams are not only sweet, but that we can continue to provide content like this for many more 初夢, hatsuyume, to come? You can support the content by subscribing, following, and more! We appreciate it more than you know~
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