• annafrancesca rodriguez

How do the Japanese celebrate New Year?

No Fireworks, No party, No countdown

In contrast to the west, there are usually no fireworks, NYE parties/dates, countdown and all those lively celebration that I was used to. Of course, there are still fireworks such as in Odaiba or Disneyland, but traditionally (and how most Japanese still spend the New Year) Shogatsu 正月 (New Year) is quiet.

So what do the Japanese do during New Year?

Spending time with Family and relatives

Most Japanese usually go home to their Jikka 実家, or the home where they grew up. It's very similar to other cultures such as during Chinese New Year or Christmas. The grandparents get to see their kids, or people meet up with high school friends, and such.

3 years ago, my first New Year in Japan.

Eat Toshi Koshi Soba (年越し蕎麦)

Toshi Koshi Soba is eaten on New Year's Eve itself, and from the version I heard, it's because noodles are long, thus symbolizing long life.

(image from matcha.jp)

First Shrine visit of the year, Hatsumode 初詣

While some Japanese visit on the early morning of the first or as early as the Eve itself, most go on the first to third day of the year. They often get Omamori (protective amulets), and burn the older ones. It is also interesting to get Omikuji, or random fortunes written on paper, though this is done not only in new year. If you get a good luck, you get to keep the paper, but if you get bad luck, then you should tie it on the wires or pine tree prepared for such purpose, to be burned by the temple later on.

Mom prepares Osechi お節

What I was told is that since New Year is a time for rest for everyone, including mothers/wives who did most of the house chores, cooking (or cleaning the house, etc) was avoided on new year itself. Therefore they prepare food that can be preserved easily beforehand, to eat on the new year, so they don't have to cook on the New Year itself. My mom-in-law prepares the Osechi herself every year, while it is also common to buy store-bought versions.

Osechi prepared by my mom-in-law. She uses most of the ingredients used in traditional Osechi.

Give Otoshi Dama (お年玉) to kids

Similar to the Chinese Ang Bao and Philippines' Aguinaldo during Christmas, kids received money from their uncles/aunts/older relatives. Whereas the Chinese usually use red packets, Japan being Japan, these envelopes also come in kawaii versions. This year, we got a Pokemon version for our adorable nieces!

Does your country also have this kind of tradition?

Prepare Kagami Mochi (Mirror Rice Cake, 鏡餅)

Kagami Mochi are two balls of Mochi, the smaller one placed on top of the bigger one, with mikan (a type of Japanese orange) are used to decorate the house, and it is said to bring luck to the house.

In my husband's household, the kids make the Mochi with my mom-in-law, and we also eat Mochi in the new year. (Because it's sticky and stretches long, thus symbolizing long life as well.)

Hang Shimenawa(しめ縄) in front of the home

Shimenawa or a sacred rope is hung in the front door to welcome the god (kami 神さま)into the home. After the new year, this is supposed to be thrown away.

Send Nengajo 年賀状

Nengajo are personalized post cards sent to everyone. I bet Japan Post earns a lot every year from this tradition lol but I guess it's a way to keep your friends updated on how you've been during the year (especially since Japanese are know not to post personal information and photos on social media). It usually has photos of the family's kids (or pets) or it can just be a simple New Years greeting with messages of 開けましたおめでとうございます、今年もよろしくお願いします!(Happy New Year! Looking forward to continuing a good relationship with you this year!Or something like that. Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu is difficult to translate directly in English). I learned recently though, that if there is a deceased in the family, Nengajo should not be sent to them. So they inform everyone prior to the New Year so that they will not be sent Nengajos.

The back of the post card where the address is written (took photo of a blank one for privacy purpose)

Front of the post card which is usually custom printed. This is a simple version for those who don't want to attach photos.

Buy Fukubukuro 福袋

Fukuburo means ”Lucky Bag", which are usually sold everywhere. These bags are usually sold as a set, at a much cheaper price. For example, the usual clothes store will sell a bag for ¥10,000 ($100 around), and it may contain a coat, sweater, skirt, cap, shoes, or a full set of clothes which may usually cost ¥30,000 (or $300, of course it varies). It's quite fun, but you usually won't know what's inside until you open it. So it's also kind of a gamble or risk.

It's not exactly tradition but I thought this is an interesting system for people who love shopping.

Fukubukuro being resold in Mercari (used goods selling App) it’s said to be worth ¥25,000~30,000 which was given away for ¥10,000.

Closing Thoughts

Japan is well known for keeping its tradition and culture strong despite being a technologically advanced and modern country. I learned that New Year's is not exempt from these traditions, and it was very interesting for me to learn these customs.

Did you learn new things about New Year's custom in Japan from this post? It's kinda amazing that there's always so much to learn about Japanese culture!

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