I reach the Torii gate and duck under the hanging white paper strips that mark the sacred precincts. After making my wishes known to the gods, I climb slowly down the stairs and drift back to the village.
A pungent white vapor rises from a pot of ama-zake—sweet sake, the traditional drink on New Year’s Eve.
Coins are tossed into an offering box, and the bell rings as each worshipper tugs on a long rope, letting the deities know of their presence.

Snowdrifts line the shores of Lake Akan—the surface of the caldera lake is calm in the deepening dusk.
Parents, children, and grandparents bundled in coats and furry hats rub their hands together to keep warm. I wrap myself in a yukata and snuggle into my warm futon, dreaming of oshogatsu (New Year’s) and all the special foods that await me in the morning. The only contrast in this world of white is the bright red nanakamado berries of the mountain ash.

They have come to pay their respects to the deities who offered protection throughout the year and to pray for good fortune in the coming year.

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