This year Meg went to kids' club at 8 and was gone pretty much all day. They collected 300 yen from each household, gathered up all the New Year decorations from the neighbourhood, built a pyre and had lunch and party games at the community centre. She came back for an hour before lunch but that was it.
K was working outside so Amy and I decided to make the traditional mayudama ourselves. Because we wanted something to do so we wouldn't feel left out rather than to save us the 398 yen of buying ready-made ones at the supermarket.
The ingredients were only rice flour and water- how hard could it be, huh?
First we mixed it all together till it got combined.
Then we added food colouring and kneaded that in. Amy chose the colours:
Then we had to steam it for 10 minutes sitting on greaseproof paper:
Then cut it in half and check the colour was transparent (not cloudy) all the way through.
Then we had to cool them in a bowl of chilled water.
Then we kneaded them until they were the same consistency as our ear lobes. This is a pretty common description in Japanese cooking and one that always makes me nervous- I don't really go around touching people's earlobes- what if mine are not the average texture? What if my cooking doesn't work out because I have defective ear lobes???? Anyway, we kneaded the dough until it felt ok to someone with questionable earlobes and no idea what the finished product should feel like.
Then it was time to roll the mayudama into balls.
And Meg came home just in time to make some before heading back to kids' club.
Predictably she didn't want to make standard boring old balls and instead made hamburgers and hot dogs and stars and peas in a pod and ice-creams and a dice.
K cut down a branch of bamboo for the girls and they used secaturs to cut off the leaves and then mold/ spear the mayudama on. It's actually supposed to be a branch of a different tree and you can even buy branches at the supermarket this time of the year but we have bamboo and anything green will work so we make do.
At 5:00 we geared up in our snow suits (after a mini-meltdown from Amy who only wanted to wear a padded vest but this time I was insisting on snow wear as sankuro is held at the top of the mountain and it's windy, dark and frigid and I was not going to be handing over my snow wear to keep her warm after 10 minutes!
When we got there the pyre was all ready and the grade 6 student (just one this year...) and her dad walked around with torches starting the fire. This fire play is a big deal for the men as well as the kids and my nose tells me there's a little kero in the mix to ensure a roaring fire. Not really necessary this year as clearing for the monkey fence meant we have masses of pine and cypress cuttings that went up with a whoooof!
It really is quite an impressive bonfire and I heard that our district has one of the biggest bonfires as we have a big open space to do it in. Many of the newer districts can't make big fires as they are surrounded by houses etc. Poor newer districts was the general consensus.
I looked around for the girls and Meg was off sliding down a steep incline from the temple cemetery to the baseball ground on her butt in the snow. It was nearly dark, freezing and they were all wearing two piece snow suits so over active butt-sledding results in snow down your pants but the squeals and laughs told me she wasn't that worried.
I couldn't find Amy though....
Not near the big fire.
Not with the butt-sledders.
Not with the other kinder kids.
Then I heard a plaintive 'Muuummmyyyyyyyyy!' from behind me.
Amy was hiding behind a truck in the very corner of the ground. She was worried the fire would get out of control and burn everyone, the cars and all our houses. I explained that it was ok and that the men with the long forked sticks were there to keep the fire in one place. She didn't look too convinced but then they were standing around drinking beer and laughing so I could kind of get why she wasn't too confident...
And after it burnt down Amy was relieved and Meg was tired and sweaty and hungry and we roasted our mayudama and some marshmallows. Some people roasted mochi and one family had three squid on a piece of wire and roasted them. We ate bowls of pork and veggie soup that the kids had all taken a bag of veggies to contribute to at kids' club and then headed home in the dark and the wind and the cold.
Home for a hot bath and warm pajamas.
Sankuro over for another year.