Celebrating the New Year – The Japanese Way

Like many celebrations in Japan, the New Year celebrations entail many exciting traditions. The Japanese New Year, known as Shogatsu or Oshogatsu (the ‘O’ is an honorific used to add a feeling of politeness/respect to a word) in Japan is considered to be the most important holiday. It is the busiest time of the year, as people working and living in various parts of the archipelago typically travel to their hometowns to spend the New Year with their families.

According to a Japanese New Year’s tradition, children receive money during the night between the years. They get Otoshidama, which means “New Year’s gift”.

Year forgetting parties known as Bonenkai are held with the purpose of leaving the previous year’s worries and troubles behind; thus reinforcing the ancient teachings of not associating the gone year with the new.

Image: hellotokyo.jp

Homes are traditionally decorated with objects made of pine, bamboo and plum trees; straw rope decorations are hung on entrances.

Straw rope decoration with bamboo

Also before the arrival of the New Year, houses are thoroughly cleaned and de-cluttered, similar to a spring clean. Prior to New Year’s Eve, orders are placed for Toshikoshi soba, known as the ‘year crossing noodles’. What better way to transition in to the New Year with a nice, warm bowl of buckwheat noodles and your loved ones. Eating Toshikoshi soba symbolises longevity and the letting go of hardship in one’s life.

On the 1st of January, viewing the first sunrise of the New Year is a very auspicious event. This ‘ritual’ is called Hatsu-hinode. During the Hatsu-hinode one is supposed to be full of hope and happiness, henceforth on the 1st of January no work including house chores should be done. People living in coastal towns tend to collectively view the first sunrise at the beach.

The Shogatsu celebrations aren’t complete without a visit to a main temple or shrine. The Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, attracts several million people over the course of three days. The atmosphere of the temple with its large bells ringing at midnight must be an amazing experience. The bells ring 108 times, which symbolises the wiping out of the sins from the yesteryear (according to Shinto, Japans main religion, we amass a total of 108 sins over the course of one year).

Here are some delicious Shogatsu dishes served during the first three days of January. Dishes include Osechi ryori, Otoso (sweetened rice wine for good health) and Ozoni (a soup with mochi).

Osechi ryori

Otoso (sweetened rice wine) drunk in a small quantity.

Ozoni (a soup with Mochi)

Have you been in Japan over the New Year? Please feel free to share your experience via the comments box below! Hope you all have an amazing New Year!

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