The Japanese New Year or Shogatsu, as the occasion is traditionally known, is celebrated with great zeal and exuberance all over Japan. This is a time when one can witness the otherwise reserved Japanese indulging in fun, festivities, food, and long ritualistic prayers. The New Year is, indeed, considered the most important holiday in the festival calendar of this "Land of the Rising Sun". Its revelry goes on for three days from January 1st to 3rd. The various traditions and customs performed during this timeframe showcase the vivid and glorious shades of ancient Japanese culture and heritage. What is truly surprising is the fact that New Year celebrations held on January 1st, as per the Gregorian calendar began as late as 1873. Prior to that, New Year was celebrated in the country in the month of spring, as per the ancient Chinese lunar calendar. Read through the following lines to discover various resplendent facts and practices related to Japanese New Year celebrations.
Before the New Year celebrations, people make sure that their homes are spick and spam. Besides observing cleanliness, Japanese decorate their homes and business establishment with traditional decorations, one of which is kadomatsu. This is a formal floral arrangement, which includes a spectacularly arranged assortment of bamboo, pine and flowers. These traditional bouquets are placed at the either side of the main entrance of the home. Other common traditional decoration that one can see during this time is kagami mochi, which is basically made of two rice cakes, placed on top of each other, with a topping of orange or tangerine. These decorations are considered auspicious in the Japanese culture.
As per their special rituals to celebrate the New Year, Japanese cook various delectable traditional dishes, without which the celebrations of the coming year remain incomplete. Toshikoshi soba is one such significant dish; its elementary ingredient is unbroken buckwheat noodles, which signify long life and thus, are eaten with great relish on New Year's Eve. Besides this, another special food prepared on this occasion is osechi ryori. This food platter is an assortment of a few distinct dishes, which are cooked on New Year's Eve and intended to last through three days of the festivities. Some of the individual dishes of this festive platter are sweet black soybeans, salted herring roe, and sweet potatoes with chestnuts. Each of these preparations represents a blessing, such as longevity, well-being, and good fortune.
New Year holds great spiritual symbolism for the Japanese, as most of them try to visit their respective temples, whether Shinto or Buddhist, on New Year's Eve or Day. This special visit is traditionally referred to as hatsumode and is made to show gratitude for the past year's blessings and to pray for an even better and prosperous coming year. Just before midnight on New Year's Eve, one can hear 108 gongs resonating across the Buddhist temples in Japan, symbolizing the number of worldly desires as per the Buddhist faith that people must work on to get rid off to attain true happiness. Many people make treks to pay homage at these shrines, right after midnight or definitely the next day. On this occasion, people wear their best holiday clothes or meticulously well-knit traditional kimonos.
New Year Gifts and Entertainment
As per the custom of otoshidama observed during the New Year celebrations, elders of the family gift money to the youngsters of the family in beautifully decorated vibrant envelops, known as pochibukuro. Besides this, many traditional games like koma, takoage, fukuwarai, karuta, hanetsuki, sugoroku, etc. are also played in the households during New Year holidays. One can also enjoy a number of entertainment programs, which include traditional song and dance shows, organized all over the country to mark New Year celebrations.
New Year Postcards
Sending postcards as New Year greetings to their loved ones on this occasion is a wonderful and very popular Japanese custom, similar to sending Christmas cards in the United States. The end of December and beginning of January is the busiest of times for post offices throughout Japan as lakhs of these special New Year postcards are to be delivered to their recipients before or on January 1st. These postcards are known as nengajo; however, if there is a death in the family, then simple postcards are written to all near and dear ones, requesting them not send any New Year greetings to the bereaved family.
Japanese live quite busy, high pressure and professional as well as discipline-oriented lifestyles, but New Year is the time when they let their hair down and celebrate the occasion with great exhilaration. Many parties, known as bonenkai, are organized by people, where guests enjoy food, dance, and drink. They let go of the problems of the past year and revel in the arrival of the better future with the coming New Year. These parties are usually organized at the end of December and are a great way to catch up with friends as well as acquaintances.
The Japanese have a unique and fantastic style of celebrating New Year. This article sheds light on various aspects of Japanese New Year.