There are many traditions each culture has in saying goodbye to the previous year and saying hello to the new one coming. For some places, it’s more than just watching the ball drop or having parties. In Japan, there are quite a few things people like to do. Usually a lot of businesses close down from Jan 1st to the 3rd to celebrate Shōgatsu 正月 or Oshōgatsu .
Everyone likes to start fresh when we enter a new year. So what better way than to have a clean house? Oosouji 大掃除 is the ultimate cleaning of everything in your home. Even in places you don’t always touch upon when doing a regular cleaning through your everyday routine.
If you’re a morning person, you’ll like this tradition. Hatsuhinode 初日の出 is when one wakes up early enough to see the sunrise. Japan is, after all, the land of the rising sun.
One of my favorite New Years tradition is looking for Fukubukuro 福袋 or lucky bags as they are also called. With each new year, many different kinds of businesses put together a variety of mystery bags for a really good price. You can be really lucky and get a lot of good things that you want or not so lucky and maybe get one good thing. Either way, it’s a fun way to get a lot of goodies from your favorite stores without breaking the bank.
Very popular customs are sending New Years cards to friends, relatives and coworkers and Otoshidama お年玉 which the adults send money in red envelopes to children.
Probably one of the biggest and most important traditions is the first visit to a shrine within the first few days of January, or Hatsumōde 初詣. It is an essential part where one goes to pay their respects and pray for a happy and successful new year.
There are even “year-forgetting parties” called Bonenkai 忘年会 to help the Japanese get a good start to the next year. Which would be really helpful in case the last year was not so kind. Some less popular activities also include Hanetsuki 羽根突き or Japanese badminton, Tako-age 凧揚げ kite-flying and Karuta 歌留多 an old card game from the 16th c.!
But one of the biggest events for New Years features food! There are some foods that are only made and eaten for this special night. Toshikoshi soba 年越し蕎麦, buckwheat noodles, are usually served. There are also Ozoni お雑煮 (Japanese New Year Mochi Soup) and Toso 屠蘇, or o-toso, a spiced medicinal sake. Osechi Ryori お節料理 is a beautiful combination of Japanese cuisine made up of dishes that are traditionally eaten on Oshogatsu. Each dish is a symbolic wish for things like long life, wealth, fertility, and happiness and arranged in a bento-like fashion.