New Year Festivities

Writer:Karen W.
Editor:Aika M.
Translator: Theo F.

How is everyone spending the winter in Japan? Winter in Kawagoe is characterized by wind chills – not much snowfall but many sunny days. Although in mountainous regions next to the Sea of Japan and the plains on the Pacific side within Saitama, there are also some places where it snows incredibly. Today I would like to introduce the winter event, “Oshogatsu,” which is essential for the beginning of the year in this diverse country.

1.) What is “Oshogatsu”?

In Japan, Oshogatsu generally takes place from the 1st of January till the 7th of January, although depending on the region there are also places that celebrate Oshogatsu until the 25th of January. On New Year’s Day, it is said that the God of new year will visit and bless each and every family. This God is said to have connections with the God of ancestors, the God of rice paddies, the God of mountains, the God of childbirth, and the God of harvest. As a result, Japanese families do their big cleaning on New Year’s Eve as a symbol of cleansing and in order to welcome the god of new year. There are also other events on this day, but next I would like to share my new year experiences as a Japanese person.

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2.)  My experiences

Before New Year’s Eve, my family members gather and make “mochi” (rice cakes)  and “ozoni” (a soup that contains rice cakes and vegetables). We also make preparations for “osechi” – a dish with different staple ingredients like shrimp and rolled omelettes that is eaten on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

On New Year’s Eve, we clean the house and prepare to eat “year-ending soba” as the countdown begins. When the clock strikes 12, we visit temples to ring a bell that signifies the beginning of a new year. 

On New Year’s Day, we sit in the yard as the “first sunrise” takes place. I would also like to note that some people also prefer to climb Mt. Fuji to witness this spectacular moment. In the morning, we go to shrines with our family and friends to pay our respects to the gods for a safe and happy new year. This is also where we buy traditional protective charms.

On the following morning, we wake up and share our ambitions and wishes for the year as a family. Using ink brushes, we write our goals for the year on a piece of paper. Next, we visit relatives and receive pocket money.

Since we had a lot of different delicacies, on January 7, we rest our bodies by having soup that contains seven different types of healthy vegetables. On January 11, we eat “kagami mochi” – two mochi stacked on top of each other that is a symbol of safety and health. 

During these festivities, some families prepare a “Kadomatsu” (made of pine and bamboo) to be placed at the front door. Furthermore, new year letters used to be a huge tradition where we send and thank people who have been a part of our lives for the past year. However, since the evolution of technology has been allowing us to send messages through devices, hardly anyone writes these letters nowadays. 

For others having lived in Japan, what kind of new year traditions have you had? I’m sure there are many things that you have heard of and some that you might not have. If you are interested, don’t be afraid and try to feel the Japanese culture!

3.) Other New Year experiences

Before we end, I would like to share some findings from the interviews I have had with other Campus Globalization members!

From Japanese members:

“Family members gather and adults hand out New Year money to children.”

“We celebrate by pounding rice cakes and cooking Osechi.”

“We have fun by holding Karaoke and Bingo contests.”

“Family and friends go to temples to make wishes to the gods, we also buy charms.”

From a Macanese member:

“We celebrate by having a fireworks contest where the most creative show wins.”

From an Indonesian member:

“We have fun by travelling to different places with friends.”

From a Sri Lankian member:

“We go see fireworks with friends.”

From a Vietnamese member:

“We clean the house and see fireworks with the family. We also visit the neighbours to receive money.”

How did YOU spent your new years this year? I hope that this article was informative and gave you some inspiration for the next New Year’s! Happy New Year!