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The Most Important Holiday in Japan: Japanese New Year

New Year is just around the corner! We will welcome 2022 in a couple days from now. Japanese people are super excited, as New Year is one of the major holiday periods in Japan.

If you are visiting Japan during this period, you will be disappointed as most businesses shut down from January 1 to January 3. Japanese people typically gather around to spend the days together with their families.

The Japanese New Year, called “Oshogatsu”, is one of the longest holiday seasons in Japan. They will be off work for around a week, in order to visit family members in their hometowns. New Year is traditionally a time to reconnect with all generations of the family to be together.

This tradition means the New Year celebration in Japan is seen as a chance to look forward with optimism and a fresh perspective. Each new year provides a fresh start for Japanese people. Hence, they held bonenkai parties or year forgetting parties at the end of the year to leave the old year’s worries and troubles behind.

Here are how Japanese people celebrate New Year:

  • Custom

It is a very popular custom for Japanese people to send New Year’s cards, which must be delivered on January 1. A single person usually sends out several dozens of cards to friends, co-workers, and relatives.

  • Decorations

Japanese houses are often decorated with ornaments made of pine, bamboo, and plum trees. Their houses are cleaned in order to welcome the new year.

  • Entertainment

Japanese people celebrate the new year by watching a highly popular television program, a music show named “Kohaku Uta Gassen”. The program features many of Japan’s most famous J-pop and enka singers in spectacular performances.

  • Games

Traditional games are played on New Year, such as Japanese badminton (Hanetsuki), kite flying (Takoage), and card game (Karuta).

  • Meals

New Year’s Eve is the time to enjoy toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles). This is symbolising longevity.

After the year changes, Japanese people eat Osechi Ryori. Osechi Ryori is the traditional Japanese New Year food since the Heian period (794-1185). It is served in special boxes, called “jubako”, that resemble a bento box. Each food has different meanings, like good fortune, prosperity, fertility, etc.

Apart from Osechi Ryori, they also enjoy Otoso (sweetened rice wine) and Ozoni (a soup with mochi) during the New Year holiday.

  • Sunrise

The first day of January, the first day of the year is best enjoyed by viewing the new year’s first sunrise, or what they called Hatsu-Hinode. The day is traditionally believed to be representative for the whole year that has just commenced. Thus, it is supposed to be full of joy and stress-free.

  • Visit shrine or temple

It is also a tradition to visit a shrine or temple during the new year. For instance, Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine can attract several million people during the first three days of the year. On the actual turn of the year, people also come to temples so they can hear large temple bells rung at midnight.

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