【WINTER】Omisoka and O-Shogatsu: 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!

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Hatsumode


O-Shogatsu is a traditionally very important holiday for Japanese people. In the lunar calendar, January was early spring and everything started flourishing again. Like in many other cultures, people gathered and wished each other a prosperous year.

Today’s O-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: the grand house cleaning

Japanese people clean their houses before the New Year

This tradition is very similar to Spring cleaning in other countries. Before welcoming the new year, many Japanese people clean up almost everything in their house. This is called ‘Osoji’ in Japanese, meaning, grand house cleaning. They then place traditional decorations outside and inside their house (see below).

O-Shogatsu decorations: Kadomatsu, Shimenawa and Kagamimochi

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

Those decorations show the people’s enthusiasm for the new year. The most popular decorations are Kadomatsu (click here to know more) , Shimenawa, and Kagamimochi (click here to know more) . 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 their house, Japanese people eat Toshikoshi Soba noodles (click here to know more)  on Ōmisoka day (31st of December) 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.”

jyoyanokane
A temple’s bell

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

On New Year’s day, most Japanese people visit Shinto shrines. The year’s first visit to a shrine is called hatsumode. They worship deities at a shrine while hoping for prosperity in the new year. Some, especially women, dress in traditional kimono clothing. The surroundings of large shrines are packed with food stalls and during the New Year’s holiday, they have a festive mood.

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Hatsumōde: a crowded shrine

A large homemade dish for New Year’s day is Osechi (click here to know more) . 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 (click here to know more) : adults give money to their family members’ children, which is also part of educating children to think of how to use money.
Another fun event for children is New Year’s games, called ‘shogatsu asobi’ in Japanese. Children of the family all gather together during the new year’s holiday, and participate in fun games and activities. Games called Karuta (click here to know more), fukuwarai (making a face with bits of papers while being blind-folded) and sugoroku (a board game close to the goose game) are popular.

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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.
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Sugoroku: a board game very similar to the goose game

Kite flying is also a joyful O-Shogatsu outdoor activity.

The Kite
The Kite

The Japanese New Year’s greeting cards, ‘nengajo’

Nengajo (click here to know more) 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.

nengajyo
Nengajo post card

See this year’s fortune via fukubukuro or ‘lucky bags’

The fukubukuro (Lucky bag)(click here to know more)  is more of a trendy custom of O-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. What you get is kind of a surprise. These bags usually include things a few times more valuable than the price of the lucky bag. Many people rush in to get their favorite brand of lucky bag products.

fukubukuro

Have a happy new year and enjoy your holiday season!

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AUTHOR

Kumo

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!