New Year – Shogatsu or Oshogatsu
There are many traditional customs associated with celebrating the Japanese New Year Shōgatsu including preparations that must be completed by 28th December (or bad luck will befall you), New Year’s Eve 31st December Omisoka and continues right up until 15th January. The New Year is similar to Christmas in the Western World where families come together giving gifts to children and eating traditional Japanese food.
Preparing to welcome the new gods
Japanese people prepare to welcome the gods (Kami) by cleaning their homes Osoji and decorating their Kamidana (alter to the gods) and place a Kado matsu pine decoration by the front entrance to the home. The Kamidana is decorated with fresh sakaki leaves and a new shimenawa rope to indicate the sacred space where the kami may approach.
Kado matsu pine placed at the entrance to the home
Image by HarumKoy Flickr photo stream
New Year Offering – Kagami Mochi
An essential offering is left for the Kami which is a Kagami Mochi made with a small round rice cake placed on top of a larger round rice cake.
The Kagami Mochi, “mirror mochi”, is given its round shape and name after the bronze mirror that is one of the Three Sacred Treasures, and it can be placed on Kamidana, or in another sacred space at the heart of the home such the tokonoma alcove.
Image by David Z Flickr photo stream
Mochi Rice Cakes
Mochi rice cakes are a traditional food made from polished white rice, and also considered a symbol of a good harvest.
New Years Eve – Omisoka “great last day of the month”
Traditionally the last night of the year, New Year’s Eve, is spent eating toshikashi soba (buckwheat noodles) symbolizing longevity. The bells of every temple in Japan are rung for 108 times in total to rid the world of 108 worldly desires that cause suffering.
However, the new modern Japanese custom is to watch the music show “Kohaku uta gassen”. This live show includes singers and performers and has become very popular today.
New Years Day – Ganjitsu
Japanese people believe each New Year is a ‘fresh start’ so they leave their troubles and worries behind on New Year’s Day and welcome the new year with a sunrise hatsu hinode somewhere like Mount Takao is a favourite place or visit to a shrine hatsumode such as Osaki Shrine. Omikuji is a fortune telling paper slip containing predictions and are usually tied to a tree.
Gantan – meaning “beginning” and “morning” is the day to make plans with family members for the year ahead and if your first dream hatsuyume of the year is favourable it means your year ahead will be a good one.
Visiting a shrine shuch as Asakuza in Tokyo on New Year’s Day
Omikuji is a fortune telling paper slip containing predictions
Photo from Jedi RC and Kaige Flickr photo stream and
Otoshidam – New Year gifts for children
This is the best time of the year for a child in Japan. Japanese Children receive lots of money from parents and relatives including Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents Otoshidama is given out in decorative envelopes called Pochibukuro with amount depending on the childs age, and relatives generosity. They can spend the money as they like so they could become quite rich!. Children also get to relax as rules are softened and spend 3 days with their family and looking forward to the year ahead.
Toshi-otoko and toshi-onna
If you happen to have been born in the current year of the traditional Chinese zodiac you are considered to be fortunate. The order of the Oriental Zodiac is: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Boar. This year is the year of the Monkey.
Traditional Japanese food associated with New Year
Osechi ryori is eaten on New Year’s Day and often for the first 3 days of the year. Made with auspicious ingredients such as prawns, herring roe and black beans that are seasoned and preserved and presented in Jubako, lacquered boxes used to present the food.
Zoni is a type of soup containing rice cakes and fish or chicken and otoso, sake infused with herbs.
Each and every dish symbolize good wish like wealth, happiness, god health, abundant harvest, long life, longevity and fertility.
Osechi ryori is the traditional food eaten on New Year’s Day
Photo from Dave Nakayama Flickr photo stream
Festival mood lasts until 15th January
The first 3 days of the year (Sanganichi) schools, businesses and government departments are closed and services are limited then the first week back to work and school until 7th January is known as matsu no uchi the festive decorations will still be on display so the light hearted and festive mood continues in Japan until 15th January (Koshogatuse or “Little New Year”) when the decorations are taken down and burned at a community dondoyaki event held to pray for a bumper harvest.
Until 2000 15th January was known as “Coming of Age Day” but is not on 2nd Monday in January.
Accent Japanese Language Classes
If you have been inspired by this taste of Japanese culture why not come along to one of our beginners classes? feel free to contact us for more details.