For the Japanese, New Year, or Oshogatsu, is one of the most important festivals of the year. It’s a Japanese traditions family celebration that’s a far cry from the parties and public displays of inebriation that typically characterize the countdown to the New Year for many people across the world. Here’s everything you need to know about Japanese New Year traditions and customs.
Osouji- The New Year Cleaning
Before the New Year, the Japanese use the term “osouji” to describe the traditional cleaning of houses and offices. In addition, the Japanese regard New Year osouji as a comprehensive cleaning of the house from top to bottom, rather than specific activities such as cleaning out cupboards or wardrobes.
Osouji is more than just making the house ready for the New Year’s celebrations with the family. It is a symbol of a new beginning. Clearance clutter from homes and workplaces, particularly the clearing of soot and dust known as ‘susuharai,’ is thought to express gratitude for the previous year’s blessings and to purify these areas for the coming year. As a result, it is a cultural and religiously significant tradition, and the Japanese will typically devote several days to it each year, taking extra time and care to repair those neglected places around the home or office. This is a duty that many office workers will complete in the last few days of the year.
Joya no kane
While noisemakers are a common component of New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world, the Japanese strictly prohibit any type of noise-making on the night of the New Year. In reality, during this time of year, the police are busy monitoring their neighborhoods to maintain peace and quiet. On New Year’s Eve, only “Joya no Kane” is acceptable loud music. To welcome the new year, Buddhists traditionally ring the temple bell 108 times.
This technique stems from the concept that the world contains 108 sorts of useless emotions (Bonno), such as rage, grudge, and disharmony, among others.
From 11:00 p.m., Buddhist monks alternately strike the bell, with the last striking coinciding with the New Year, symbolizing the need to let go of negative feelings.
Summer fireworks are popular in Japan, but not on New Year’s Eve.
However, in Japan, there are many commercialized or westernized districts where one can enjoy New Year’s Eve fireworks and countdown celebrations.
New Year Decorations
In Japan, there are many different forms of New Year decorations.
From January 1st to 7th, Kadomatsu, or “pine gates,” are displayed in pairs at the front of house gates and buildings. They are normally made up of three bamboo poles cut diagonally to varying lengths and straw rope connected to pine tree branches. Sprigs of different leaves and flowers may also be included. Bamboo is a symbol of strength and growth, while pine is a symbol of longevity. Sprigs of pine are commonly displayed as smaller and simpler versions of the kadomatsu in homes and small businesses.
Shimenawa are sacred straw ropes that are used to denote a cleansed space and to ward off evil spirits. Large ones can be seen in temples and shrines.
Shimekazari are a type of shimenawa that is embellished with a variety of lucky things. During the New Year season, they are hung at the doors to homes and businesses to ward off evil spirits. Of course, each of the auspicious artefacts has its own significance. A daidai, or Japanese bitter orange, for example, is seen to be a favourable omen because it can be translated as “generation to generation” if written in different characters. A lobster, on the other hand, indicates longevity because its lean resembles that of an elderly person.
Kagami mochi are formed from two rice cakes (mochi), one smaller than the other, and topped with bitter orange from “generation to generation.” The mochi signify the previous year and the coming year, and when mixed with the orange, they reflect the family’s continuity over time. In houses and businesses, it is placed in the kamidana, or little raised Shinto shrine. The stacked mochi’s resemblance to the copper round mirrors used during the Muromachi era, also known as kagami, is thought to have given the decoration its name. On 11th January (or the second Saturday or Sunday in January), the kagami mochi are usually split by hand or hammer, then they are cooked and eaten with sweet red beans in a tradition known as kagami-biraki (“the opening of the mirror”). A knife is never used since it symbolizes the breaking of familial ties.
The other decorations are usually transported to shrines and destroyed when the New Year time is ended.
Toshikoshi soba is a basic buckwheat noodle dish served as the year’s final dinner.
Long strands of noodles represent a yearning for a long life, but the firmness of the bite and ease of cutting soba are linked to the desire to “break off the year” with ease.
This is why it must be the last supper of the year and must never be eaten at midnight, as breaking off the year and passing it over to the new year brings bad luck.
Osechi Ryori is a set of small servings of several Japanese meals served in a jubako bento box with three to four layers.
On New Year’s Eve, it is put in the centre of the table, but it is only served to the entire family for the first meal of the new year (in our case, late brunch).
Each item in the jubako reflects a specific wish for the coming year, such as salmon roe for healthy infants, date maki for academic brilliance, and sliced lotus roots for insight.
The Ozoni is another meal offered on the first day of the new year. It’s a soup made with rice cake slices and other local ingredients.
Because it is made in a single pot, the meal is often associated with the idea of “beginning the year with a clean slate.”
Following Japanese tradition, strenuous labor should be avoided during the first few days of the new year. Ozoni is a dish that is only prepared once and maybe reheated for up to several days.
Hatsumode- First Shrine Visit of the Year
The first visit to a shrine in the new year is known as Hatsumode. All members of the family gather to pray to the deities for spiritual blessings and good fortune at the shrine. Shrines are frequently packed for the first three days, but visitors can stay until the seventh day when the new year deity departs.
Hatsumode quickly became my favorite of all the Japanese New Year traditions for someone who enjoys seeing a large crowd as long as he or she does not have to line. Hatsumode is commonly performed at Shinto shrines, however, it is also permissible to attend a Buddhist temple.
The majority of Japanese people go to a shrine or temple on January 1st or the first few days of the New Year, which are national holidays in Japan. There is a festive feeling about several foods and drink vendors put up to ease the hunger and monotony for those in line to worship — a wait that can be hours at many of the country’s most prominent temples and shrines. The Meiji Jingu Shrine in Harajuku, Tokyo, gets a constant stream of tourists all year, but expect crowds of up to 2-3 million over the New Year. As a result, some people prefer to wait until later in the New Year to pay their first visit to the shrine.
Good Luck Charms- Omamori and Omikuji
The Japanese return their “lucky charms” from the previous year during this visit. People will be seen carrying wooden arrows with bells and other good luck trinkets to the temple. These are known as hamaya, which means “arrow that destroys devils”. They are kept in Japanese homes to ward off evil spirits. They are then returned to the temple at the beginning of the year, along with any other charms and amulets they may have purchased the year before. Some shrines may have fires that you can cast your own charms into. Every year, new arrows and good luck tokens are purchased at the temple. Major shrines and temples collect old charms from the previous year for ceremonial burning at the same time. Those who maintain old charms for another year will have a difficult year ahead of them.
Omikuji, or fortune lottery, are fortune-telling papers found throughout Japan in shrines and temples. Keep it for the remainder of the year if the fortune you received was good. If not, tie it at a shrine or temple so you don’t have to carry the bad luck about with you all year.
There is a more popular means to obtain a fortune lottery at the Kawagoe Hikawa Temple, a Shinto shrine in Kawagoe where a family of five deities resides.
Aitai mikuji is a type of fortune-telling that involves fishing red paper seabreams with your fortune written on them. And, because you’re receiving a blessing from the gods of love, good fortune boosts your chances of meeting THE ONE.
These are some of the most widely observed Japanese traditions of New Year’s.
They may have been founded on common concepts, but their application differs greatly from one place to the next. Similarly, there are a few additional traditions that are not widespread throughout Japan but are unique to certain regions and families.
Hatsuhinode- First Sunrise of the Year
The Japanese enjoy commemorating the first events of the new year, such as the first meal, the first ringing of the bell, and the first dream of the year.
It is thought that appreciating the firsts in all of these things will lead to better fortune in the long run. Hatsuhinode, including the first sunrise of the year. Japanese people rise unusually early in the morning to see the first sunrise of the year.
Who wouldn’t like to see the light peaking through the clouds or through the mountains? Hatsuhinode, more than anything, represents new hope and spiritual rejuvenation for the next year.
Otoshidama and Children’s Games
For Japanese children, New Year is a special time because they get otoshidama or money gifts. Otoshidama is distributed in miniature painted packets called “pochibukuro,”. It similar to the “red envelopes” given to youngsters in Chinese culture around the lunar New Year.
Traditional games such as hanetsuki (a ball game similar to badminton played with wooden paddles), takoage (kite flying), koma (spinning top), sugoroku (two board games – one similar to backgammon, the other to snakes and ladders). fukuwarai (in which a blindfolded person places paper on the face, such as eyes, eyebrows, nose, and mouth) and karuta is played during the New Year.
Fukubukura- Surprise bags
The start of the winter sale season coincides with the New Year. Apart from typical discounts, Japanese retailers frequently provide fukubukuro, or “lucky bags,”. These are essentially mystery bags containing clothing, electronics, and accessories (whatever the store sells) for a certain fee. In terms of clothing, you simply select a bag for men or women in your size.
While the costs are normally substantially lower than retail, you have no idea what you’re getting until you buy it. As a result, it’s a bit hit-or-miss. That is why many Japanese people pool their money with friends and buy something they want or trade.
Shinnenkai – Japanese New Year parties
New Year’s festivities are known as Shinnenkai. They normally begin as a family affair from January 1st to 3rd at home or at the homes of relatives. They can last all month for get-togethers with friends, and other community groups. Outside of more family-oriented celebrations, shinnenkai are essentially drinking events that, like bonenkai, are usually hosted at izakaya (Japanese-style drinking establishments).
There is a slew of other Japanese customs that were not included in this list. In Japan, New Year’s is a big affair, with lots of activities and customs. There are numerous festivals and concerts taking place, as well as television programs that air only once on New Year’s Eve. The customs differ by location and household, but we hope that this list provided some insight into Japanese culture.