Japanese New Year Celebration (Shogatsu or Oshogatsu) – Traditions, Customs and Facts

In Japan, New Year is the most important holidays. People will say “ake-mashite-omedetou-gozaimasu” (which means “Happy New Year”) to each other whenever they see at the first time in the New Year. The events are widely celebrated and enjoyed, most business are closed from 1st to 3rd January, excluding some retailers. Many people who have moved to big cities will return home during the holidays to be with family and friends. Since most businesses are closed on the first three days of the New Year, the streets tend to be very quiet except for those near temples and shrines.

Before the New year, the Japanese usually have bonenkai party which held among office colleagues and bosses. The word “bonenkai” means “forget-the-old-year party”. The party is meant to forget the unpleasant memories of the passing year as well as to welcome the New Year. At the party, bosses will usually tell all their stuff to be Breiko (means to forget their position and be impolite!).

Omisoka is the day of the New Year’s Eve and it is the second most important day of the year in Japan. The Japanese are very busy on omisoka because they need to do house cleaning (called osoji) in order to get rid of the dirty of the passing year. Everything has to be cleaned before the New Year day. The newly cleaned home is festooned with certain auspicious images such as kadomatsu and shimekazari. After cleaning, Japanese will have the largest dinner of the year.

At the very end of the day, usually around 11 pm, it is very common to have toshikoshiudon or toshikoshisoba, a kind of Japanese noodle. The long noodles are eaten to symbolize long life. Joya is the night of New Year’s Eve. Shortly before midnight, temples and shrines throughout Japan strike their huge bells 108 times, a precaution intended to drive away the previous year’s sins and ensuring a fresh new start.

Japanese New Year celebration (called shogatsu in Japanese) takes place from 1st to 3rd January, the first day of the New Year is called gantan and is a national day in Japan. Families usually gather to spend the days together. During shogatsu, people will eat special dishes called osechi ryori which is packed in a Jubako box and has several layers. Each dish has a particular meaning. For example, kuromame (sweet black beans) for health, prawns for long life, kurikinton (sweet chestnuts and mashed sweet potato) for happiness, tazukuri (terriyaki taste small sardines) for a good harvest, kazunuko (herring roe) for fertility, and so on. It is also traditional to eat mochi dishes (rice cake) during New Year’s holidays. The most popular mochi dish is zouni (rice cake soup). But of course the ingredients are vary depending on regions and families.

There is a custom of giving money to children during these holidays (it’s called otoshidama). It would be a good idea if you prepare some money in small decorative envelopes if you are going to family gatherings. On the first day of the New Year, Japanese people will usually visit a temple or shrine to pray for safety, good fortune and health. This first visit to a shrine or temple is called hatsumoude in Japanese (meaning ‘first visit’) and it is one of the most important rituals of the year.

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