In Japan, New Year (known as oshogatsu or shogatsu) is seen as the most important holiday. From 1st-3rd of January, businesses shut up shop and families come together to celebrate. Japan has lots of traditions for New Year’s celebrations and we will explore some of these in this blog post.
“Year forgetting parties” or Bonenkai parties, are held to leave last years worries behind and look forward to a fresh start of a new year. Ornaments made from bamboo and pine are often shown from houses and plum trees are used as decorations also. These decorations are known as Kadomatsu and usually can be found from late December until early January. It is said that these decorations are the temporary dwelling places of gods who come to bless the humans.
When it comes to New Year’s eve, it is customary to enjoy a bowl of Toshikosi Soba (buckwheat noodles) as the final meal of the year. It’s a tradition that is over 200 years old and most of the population stay true to it. The noodles are said to symbolise longevity. When New Year’s day arrives, Osechi-Ryori is a traditional type of food. It is usually made before the turn of the year and then stored in Lacquer boxes. Once January 1st arrives, the contents of the boxes are consumed over the first few days. Within the boxes you could find: sweet egg roll, black beans, boiled shrimp and mashed sweet potatoes with chestnuts. Each food has a special meaning for it’s presence.
Generally the 1st January is a happy day, full of joy and free of any anger and stresses of everyday life. A common custom in Japan on New Years is the sending of New Year’s cards, which are specially marked to be delivered only on January 1st. Similar to the Christmas tradition of sending cards, Japanese people will often send lots of these cards to friends and family.
The final tradition to talk about is Hatsumode, which describes the first visit to a shrine in the new year. People in Japan will often visit to pray for good fortune and health in the upcoming year. Whilst most people will stay awake on New Year’s eve and visit the shrine in the first few hours of January 1st, the visit can be made any time within the first few days of January!