New year in Japan

Jan 12, 2011

Oshougatsu is the Japanese New year. Japan has adopted the solar calendar since 1873 and the new year celebration starts on January 1st. It is considered by most Japanese to be one of the most important annual festivals. Everything associated with the new year is symbolic of "firsts" of the new year. Thus, the new year gives a sense of renewal.

Below are some info about the Japanese new year (some are googled source)

忘年会 Boun
Japanese starts welcoming the new year by forgetting the woes and troubles of the current year. Companies, friends and family will organize Bounenkai, which literally means "forget the year gathering". Bounenkai is a Japanese drinking party that takes place at the end of the year and is generally held among groups of co-workers or friends.

年賀状 Postcards
The Japanese have a custom of sending New Year's Day postcard to their friends and relatives, similar to the Western custom of sending Christmas cards. Their original purpose was to give their faraway friends and relatives information of themselves and their immediate family. In other words, this custom existed for people to tell others whom they did not often meet that they were alive and well.

Postcards within Japan reach the receivers on the first day of new year. Isn't that cool? If you send them early for example 25th of December, by right it will reach the receiver before the new year day. In Japan, only for New year's postcards, they will keep them at the regional post offices and send them to the receivers exactly on the new year's day!! (Thank you postman for delivering them on time!)

New year postcard

大晦日 Omisoka
Omisoka or new years eve is a very symbolic day in Japan and is associated preparing the mind for the coming year. The day is a preparation day to welcome toshigami, a new year's god. Therefore, traditionally, people clean their home and prepare kadomatsu and/ or Shimenawa to welcome the god before new years eve.


大掃除 Osouji
The preparation for celebrations on new years day are accompanied by osouji, translated literally as "big cleaning" or conceptually as spring cleaning whereby the Japanese clean their homes to purify them for the coming year and to drive our impure influences.

年越しそば Toshikoshisoba
Just before the midnight, usually around 11pm on the new years eve, it's a Japanese tradition to eat toshikoshisoba, literally means crossover soba but often translated as new years eve soba. This tradition roughly means by eating these noodles, you are about to "end the old year and enter the new year"

除夜の鐘 New years eve bell
Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times at midnight. This tradition is called joya no kane which means "bell rings on new year eve's night." The rings represent 108 elements of bonno (煩悩), defilements, which is said people have in their mind. The bells are rung to repent 108 of the bonno. The ritual is translated as a way to send out the old year and usher in the new.

Oshougatsu is a time for peace and resolution. As much as Japanese love to work, they don't go to work on New year's day. They rest, celebrate and spend holiday with the family. But one thing I find interesting is, the new year holidays are not meant for only fathers and kids, it is also dedicated to the mothers too. Who is the person at home who never gets to enjoy holiday? Mothers! They have to cook every day even during public holidays, right? Oshougatsu in Japan take that into consideration. No cooking is allowed during the first 3 days of new year. So, the first thing that comes into your mind will be, what do Japanese eat during new year?

おせち料理 Osechi Ryouri
Osechi-ryouri are traditional Japanese New Year foods. Osechi are recognizable by their special boxes called jubako which resemble bento boxes. Originally, during first three days of the New Year it was a taboo to use a hearth and cook meals, except when cooking ozoni. Osechi was made by the close of the previous year, as women do not cook in the New Year.

お年玉 Otoshidama
On New Year's Day, Japanese people have a custom of giving money to children. This is known as otoshidama. It is handed out in small decorated envelopes called 'pochibukuro,' similar to Chinese red envelopes. The amount of money given depends on the age of the child.

お餅 Mochi

Another custom is eating rice cakes. It is usually made before New Year's day and eaten during the beginning of January. Mochi is also made into new years decoration called kagami mochi, formed from two round rice cakes with a bitter orange (橙 daidai) placed on top. The name daidai is supposed to mean "several generations"

遊び Games
It is also customary to play many New Year's games. These include kite flying, spintop and sugoroku (Japanese board game)

There are many shows created at the end-of-year, beginning-of-year entertainment, and some being a special edition of the regular shows. One special TV show that most Japanese like to watch for many decades now is Kohaku uta gassen aired on NHK on New year's eve. The show features two teams, red and white, of popular music artists competing against each other.

The firsts of the year
Celebrating the new year in Japan also means paying special attention to the first time something is done in the new year. Hatsuhinode (初日の出) is the first sunrise of the year. Before sunrise on January 1, people often drive to the coast or climb a mountain so that they can see the first sunrise of the new year.

Hatsumode is the first trip to a shrine or temple. Many people visit a shrine after midnight on December 31 or sometime during the day on January 1.

Other "firsts" that are marked as special events include shigoto-hajime (仕事始め, the first work of the new year), Hatsugama (the first tea ceremony of the new year), and the hatsu-uri (the first shopping sale of the new year).

The celebration of the Japanese New Year involves many traditions, customs and rituals that hold special symbolic meanings. The New Year itself represents a time to conclude activities of the passing year and a time to start anew. Unlike many countries that celebrate new year by organizing parties and having fun, the Japanese seem to tone it down, spend time with family members and prepare one's mind for the next challenges.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting post. Thanks, Nana. As for me, this year I decided to welcome the New Year the Japanese way by going to Isetan early in the morning and then, jostling with half of KL who had also decided to get "The Lucky Bag" where various brands in Isetan would fill red bags with random things which are worth alot more than what one can purchase these bags for.

Nana said...

Ohh dear, did Isetan in KL organize lucky bags too?? Hahaha... it sure was the Japanese way! I have bought lucky bag once many many years ago. I went and snatched a mikimoto lucky bag and got some very nice piece of jeweleries. Yeah, it was worth it. My close friend here actually went to Kobe a day before the lucky bag sale, booked a hotel near the department store so that she could queue 4am in the morning, freezing cold! She proudly told me she was the second person in the line! And the reward, RM 10,000 worth of Italian brand clothes for the price of RM1000!!! It was real nice too.

i amsterdam said...

Very informative post!! I know that the postcards will reach the recipient on new year
s day from my Japanese talk group here, isn't that nice???

But I would like everyday to be a new year day.. so I do not have to cook!!!

Nana said...

Hi i amsterdam,
Me too! How I wish everyday is a Japanese new year day! Cooking as a hobby is fine but when it's an obligation, it's not so much fun anymore... :)

The Bubur Caca Lover said...

Kudos to you for making this entry very informative. Banyak jugak yg I tak tahu pasal New Year di Jepun before this. Thanks for sharing all the info~

Nana said...

You are welcome. Actually banyak juga details yang I tak tahu sebelum ni, sehinggalah I rajin belek2 info kat internet ni. Dah alang2 baca, might as well share with my friends...:)

Cheqna said...

Salam Nana,

tqvm..will drop by again to read ur interesting postings soon..take care ye :-)

Nana said...

Salam Cheqna,

Don't worry! You have your datelines. That's more important tau! You take care too! Jangan sesat2 tau. ;)

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