In Japan, the celebrations for the new year (Shogatsu or Oshogatsu) begin today. In fact, while Christmas is not a national holiday, the new year is so significant that there is a school vacation for 2 full weeks and businesses and most tourist attractions are closed from December 30th – January 3rd. Instead of sending out Christmas cards, it is traditional to send out New Year’s cards.
To represent the fresh start that the new year brings, clothes and homes are thoroughly cleaned. Branches from bamboo and plum and pine trees are used to decorate the entrances to houses.
In Japan, there are 3 types of celebrations for the New Year.
- As December draws to a close, Bonenkai parties ( “Forget-the-year Parties”) mark the process of leaving the old year behind.
- From January 1 – 3, Shogatsu new year’s gatherings for families take place.
- In the early weeks of the new year, at Shinnenkai (“New Year Parties”), co-workers and colleagues celebrate new beginnings.
Families gather on New Year’s Eve so the days leading up to New Year’s Eve are heavy travel days as people return home to spend New Year’s Eve and the New Year with family.
New Year’s Eve
It has become popular for families to watch Kōhaku Uta Gassen, the annual New Year’s Eve special produced by NKH, the national network.
At midnight On January 1st, shrines and temples ring bells 108 times to mark the transition to the new year. Families return home for the O-sechi meal.
O-sechi-Ryori: Japanese Cuisine for the New Year
The cuisine served during new year’s celebrations is symbolic.
- Gomame (sardines)
- Toshikoshi Soba (buckwheat noodles) for a long life
- Ebi (shrimp) for long life
- Sushi for celebration
- Kazunoko (herring roe) represents prosperity
- Kuromame (beans) symbolize health.
- Kamaboko (fish cake) represents the rising sun and celebration
- Mochi for good luck
O-sechi-Royori is served in colorful lacquer dishes called jubako and presentation, which must be colorful, is very important.
So that they can relax during the New Year’s festivities, many families prepare the cuisine in advance or purchase it from department stores like Takashimaya, Daimaru, and Isetan. Some hotels also serve New Year’s feast showcasing traditional dishes. Others offer full New Year’s packages so that visitors can experience the traditions.
New Year’s Day
Arising early to view the first sunrise of the new year (hatsu-hinode) and hatsumode festivals (marking the first visits of the year to shrines or temple between January 1 and 3) are traditional.
On January 2, the royal family invites the public to visit the inner grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Throughout the day, the Emperor makes several appearances.