【WINTER】Omisoka and Oshogatsu: The Japanese Year End and New Year’s holidays

Today’s Shogatsu inherits some traditional customs and also adds more modern elements. Let’s see how Japanese people spend their Year End and New Year’s holidays.



Shogatsu is a traditionally important holiday for Japanese people. In our lunar calendar, January was early spring and everything starts flourishing again. The people gathered and wished for a prosperous year for each other.

Today’s Shogatsu inherits some traditional customs and also adds more modern elements. Let’s see how Japanese people spend their Year End and New Year’s holidays.

Osoji: grand house cleaning

Ōsōji: grand house cleaning

Before welcoming a new year, many Japanese people clean up almost everything in their house. This is Ōsōji, or grand house cleaning. They then place traditional decorations outside and inside their house.

Shogatsu decorations: Kadomatsu, Shimenawa and Kagamimochi

Kadomatsu bamboo gate
Kagami-mochi: layered, round rice cakes
Shimenawa decoration at a house’s front door

Those decorations show the people’s enthusiasm for the new year. The popular decorations are Kadomatsu , Shimenawa, and Kagamimochi . They all have special meanings. For example, Kadomatsu is a bamboo tower with pine tree to invite the New Year’s god to our house.

On New Year’s Eve, one must eat Toshikoshi Soba noodles

Soba noodles
Soba noodles

After arranging our house, we eat Toshikoshi Soba noodles on Ōmisoka day in order to wish for longevity. We then hear the sounds of a bell at a temple. This tradition is called Joya-no-Kane . A lot of Buddhist temples in Japan ring their bell 108 times on this day. This is for cleansing human greed and to have a peaceful mind before New Year’s Day. When we welcome the New Year’s day, we say “Akemashite Omedetōgozaimasu”, which means “Happy New Year.”

A temple’s bell

Eat an Osechi dish with family members on New Year’s day.

On New Year’s day, many Japanese people visit shrines. The year’s first visit to a shrine is called Hatsumoude. They worship deities at a shrine while hoping for prosperity in the new year. Some dress in traditional Kimono clothing. The approaches to large shrines are full of food stalls and during the New Year’s holiday, they have a festive mood.

Hatsumōde: a crowded shrine

A large homemade dish for New Year’s day is Osechi . Many different foods are placed in layered lunch boxes. These foods are cooked and look very beautiful. Every single item of food has a fortunate meaning. Family members and relatives usually have this meal together.
Osechi dish

Exciting events for children: Otoshidama and Shogatsu Asobi

An exciting event for children is receiving Otoshidama . Adults give money to their family members’ children. We think this custom is good practice for children to think of how to use money.
Another fun event for children is Shogatsu Asobi. As relatives’ children all gather together during the new year’s holiday, they all participate in fun games and activities. Karuta, Fukuwarai and Sugoroku are popular.

Fukuwarai: A player wearing an eye-mask places the proper elements of a face on a head. He/ She completes the faceless picture with the help of other children.
Sugoroku: a boardgame where a player throws dice to move a piece as many squares as the numbers shown on the rolled dice.

Flying a Takoage kite flying is also a joyful Shogatsu outdoor activity.

The Kite
The Kite

The Japanese New Year’s greeting card, Nenga-jyō

Nenga-jyō post cards are a way to deliver your appreciation to friends and colleagues. It’s much like the western Christmas card that’s used to send holiday greetings to those you can’t be with.

Nengajyō post card

See this year’s fortune via Fukubukuro lucky bags

The Fukubukuro (Lucky bag) is more of a trendy custom of Shogatsu by contrast to those above. Winter sales in Japan begin on the New Year’s Holiday. During this period, a variety of shops hide their products in a bag. These bags usually include a few times that are more valuable the price of the lucky bag. Many people rush in to get their favorite brand of lucky bag products.


What do you think of Shogatsu from this article?
From the beginning of December, Shogatsu traditions appear throughout Japan.
If you would like to know more about each of the things described here, please click the word to jump to our other articles.
We also explain the traditional meaning of the New Year’s holidays. Japan’s New Year “Oshogatsu,” is to welcome the God Toshigami-sama, who brings abundance and happiness to each family.

Have a happy new year and enjoy your holiday season!

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Writer / Translator

I love travelling and tourists! Where to next? Wherever it is, I hope to find a good onsen (hot spring bath), delicious drinks, and friendly people. I enjoy telling Japanese stories in English, and it fills my life with plenty of learning opportunities!