New Year (Shogatsu or Oshogatsu) in Japan is quite enjoyable. It is said to be one of the most important holidays and yearly festivals in Japan. There are a lot of things to do during the New Year holiday. As I have planned to do something for this wonderful holiday season, I hereby express what I know about Japanese New Year celebration. You will know how do Japanese celebrate it and other related customs we follow to have a great memorable day.

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New Year Decoration at Sensoji Temple in Tokyo, Japan. Photo Credit: mrhayata at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

This article surly helps you to understand about Japanese New Year, its facts, history, traditions, cultural impacts, recipes and useful travel guides. In my opinion, you should come to Japan to celebrate your New Year holidays. Here you can enjoy your time watching the sunrise in the very early morning. It is one of the great things you will ever do here in Japan because Japan is known as the land of the rising sun.

Japanese New Year – Time & Date

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New Year Paper Lamps in Kyoto. Photo Credit: goodmami at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Unlike Chinese, Korean or Vietnamese New Year, Japanese celebrate their New Year on January 1. History says, until 1873, during the Meiji Era (1868-1912), celebration of the Japanese New Year was based on the Chinese lunar calendar. The first day of January became the official New Year’s Day since five years after Meiji Restoration. As Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar instead of the lunar calendar, a great chance has been created especially for you who do not permanently reside in Japan. What’s the chance? The chance is you can celebrate the Japanese New Year right end of the Christmas holiday. In fact, your Christmas holiday is a quite long comparing to other holidays which could make a great travel tour to Japan. Are not you going to visit Japan for celebrating New Year?

December 30 to January 3

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They Don’t Need to Go to School During New Year’s Holiday. Photo Credit: John Gillespie at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Japanese New Year is coming in a few days later. What are you going to do? I already have made my mind up what I will be doing during this holiday season. I just simply can hint you one thing that I am going to have a great holiday season, no doubt about that. However, as the holiday season usually begins here on the December 30th (lasts till January 3), many people who work and study in big cities go back to their own home towns to celebrate New Year with their friends and family members. As part of winter holiday, Japanese schools are closed for two days before and after New Year.

December 31 – New Year’s Eve is Important!

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Young Guys Really Love Concert! A Performance by Guitar Wolf at Shelter Club Tokyo During New Year’s Eve. Photo Credit: masao nakagami at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

December 31st is a very important day for the Japanese. I know what everybody does on the New Year’s Eve, some of you have party outside, some go for a night concert, some stay at home switching the TV on and wait for time to celebrate New Year countdown, some people form a group and have an outdoor night picnic party and etc. The thing I do is – I first make a choice based on the situation on that day. If my parents want me to stay with them on 31st night then I stay with them, there is no exception! If it does not happen then I go out with friends and see fireworks. Let’s take a look at the things we do on the December 31st night.

Eating Soba Noodles

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Toshikoshi Soba! Photo Credit: Christian Kadluba at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

There are some old customs we follow on the New Year’s Eve, and eating toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles) is just one of them. If you want to learn about soba noodle recipe then you should learn it before New Year’s Eve. In fact, this custom was originated in the Edo period (1603-1868). Japanese people usually have it as part of dinner or evening snack. Soba noodles symbolize longevity and good fortune. You, don’t eat it past midnight, if you have it at that time then you are supposed to bring your own bad luck. It is one of the customs we believe in as well.

Ringing Bells at Night

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Nanzenji Temple Bell in Kyoto. Photo Credit: Hideyuki KAMON at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Japanese people also visit shrine and temple around midnight on 31st night. The bells of every temple in Japan are being rung for 108 times in total to get rid of the 108 worldly desires that cause suffering for us. In my life, I had only one chance to ring the bells. It was back in 2010, I felt myself lucky and very happy for doing that. In fact, some Japanese temples allow general people to ring the bells they have, so you may get a chance! Just keep praying for getting a golden opportunity!

The New Custom That Is Being Popular

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This Sort of Performance Attracts Millions of Viewers on New Year’s Eve. Photo Credit: Dennis Amith at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

In this 21st century watching the music show “Kohaku uta gassen” on the New Year’s Eve has been a highly popular modern custom in Japan. It is very entertaining watching Enka and J-pop singers’ performances! Most of the people wait when the show would begin. Everyone enjoys watching singers’ performances; they dance and sing at the same time! This sound too good! Except this, many young teenage guys get out of the houses and make a plan of their own.

The First Sunrise of the New Year in Japan

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New Year’s Sunrise! This Is Such A Beautiful Moment. Photo Credit: Yuki Matsukura at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

In Japan, the first sunrise of the New Year is believed to be a very special day. In general, people find a clear spot where they can stare at on the east side to view the first sunrise of the first day of the year. Many people prefer to go the beaches; some people choose mountaintops for praying to the first sunrise. Mount Takao is the best place for viewing the first sunrise in Japan on New Year’s Day.

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New Year’s First Sunrise in Ibaraki, Japan. Photo Credit: hirotomo t at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

It would be great watching the first sunrise from the top of the Mount Fuji if people were allowed to do so but certainly you can’t do that. The Mount Fuji weather would never let you achieve this. In fact, winter is not the perfect time for climbing Mount Fuji. For more info, please read this article.

What do we pray to the sun? What do you think of this? Surly, we pray to the sun for having a good year, being healthy and strong and most of all for having a peaceful environment that is filled with happiness and harmony. This popular custom has been carried out by the Japanese until now since the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

Hatsumode – Visiting and Praying at the Temples/Shrines

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A Big Crowd! They Are Waiting for the New Year’s Pray at Osaki Shrine. Photo Credit: Takashi Hososhima at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

What is Hatsumode? The word Hatsumode refers to visit the first shrine or temple of the Japanese New Year. It does not mean you have to visit temple or shrine only on January 1 but also 2 and January 3. It is a tradition to visit them in order to pray for having a good year, health and families’ happiness. If you want to have real festive atmosphere then have some foods from food stands, buy lucky charms and dispose the last year lucky charms. Don’t worry; they will be replaced by the new ones for sure!

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A Lot of Visitors at Ikuta Shrine, Kobe. Photo Credit: holycalamity at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

While visiting the shrines and temples people usually greet with each other even when you know them slightly. Saying Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu (Happy New Year) one can show his or her friendly attitude toward others. This is a common thing; I guess you do it on the first day of the year. Many men and women wear traditional colorful kimono on the day they visit temple or shrine.

Best Temples and Shrines for Hatsumode

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Yasaka-jinja Shrine in Kyoto. Photo Credit: Matt Perreault at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

So, what do you think about this ritual? As a foreign tourist, would you like to visit at least one Buddhist temple and Shrine during Hatsumode? If so then I highly recommend you to visit Meiji Jingu Shrine, located in Harajuku, Tokyo. In my opinion, the best time to go to Meiji jingu shrine for this year new is at midnight. I always prefer to go there at that time during new year, though one can visit Meiji Shrine in the very early morning as well.

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You Can Buy Things From These Shops, Meiji Jingu Shrine, Tokyo. Photo Credit: ladyous at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Approximately, a million visitors over the first few days of the New Year visit this famous Shrine. In fact, it is said to be the best place for praying a New Year’s visit to a Shinto Shrine. Meiji jungu shrine in new year at midnight is awesome! Have a look at the photo shown below!

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Here is the Meiji Jingu Shrine at Midnight! Photo Credit: john_v_mccollum at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

You also can visit some other popular hatsumode spots in Tokyo they are: Sensoji Temple, Sojiji Temple (Nishiarai Daishi Shrine), and Kawasaki Daishi. You can write down your wishes to wooden plates at Shrines or Temples. Your wishes would come true.

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Wooden Plates for Writing Wishes! Photo Credit: Wilhelm Joys Andersen at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing

If you are planning to celebrate New Year in Kyoto then I recommend you to visit Kyoto’s best Shinto shrines for Hatsumode, they are: Yasaka-jinja Shrine (Center point for New Year’s Festivities in Kyoto), Heian-jinga Shrine, Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. While on the other hand, Kamakura’s Tsuruoka Hachimangu shrine is a very famous spot for praying on the first day of the year.

Omikuji

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Omikuji Fortune Slips. Photo Credit: KittyKaht at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Omikuji is a fortune telling paper slip, mostly found at many Buddhist temples and Shinto Shrines. Buying omikuji during hatsumode is a tradition, no doubt about that. You can give a try to see what fortune you have for the New Year. These slips are written in Japanese but lately, you can find English, Korean and Chinese ones! They contain predictions such as “good luck” or “bad luck” and so on. Like other visitors you are supposed to tie an omikuji slip around a tree’s branch as a result bad fortune can be prevented and good fortune will come true.

Otoshidama

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Insert Money in These Small Envelops (Pochibukuro). Photo Credit: tecking at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Giving money to Children on New Year’s Day is called Otoshidama. It is a popular Japanese New Year custom originated in the Edo Period. In fact children have a great opportunity to get rich. With the money they can buy whatever they want to desire to have. Usually, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, relatives are supposed to give otoshidama to children. The average amount depends on the children’s age and is handed out in small decorated envelopes called Pochibukuro.

Traditional Japanese Dishes for the New Year

To tell you the truth, we do have various types of dishes to try yourself. You certainly would like to have them when I explain to you clearly. As various dishes are served during shogatsu my mother gets busy making all these delicious foods.

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Osechi Ryori! They Look Very Delicious. Photo Credit: kimubert at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

There is a special meal called Osechi Ryori, usually prepared before at the end of the year and eaten on the New Year. Various types of foods such as sea foods, sliced vegetables, boiled beans and other dishes are preserved. They are packed in layers of lacquered boxes, called jubako.

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A Beautiful Otoso Set! Photo Credit: Ken Schwarz at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

The reason for using boxes is that dishes could be preserved well and could be served without any hassle. They will not get mixed up with other dishes. Each and every dish symbolize good wish like wealth, happiness, god health, abundant harvest, long life, longevity and fertility.

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Ozoni – Traditional Japanese Soup. Photo Credit: kimubert at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Otoso is an alcoholic drink that is served with osechi. It is a kind of herbal medicine made from Japanese rice wine. It is said that drinking otoso prevents us to stay away from evil spirit. Usually, we drink it before eating colorful osechi dishes.

Ozoni (Zoni) is a special recipe served during the first day of the New Year. It is a delicious Japanese soup with Mochi (rice cake) and mostly eaten in the early morning on New Year’s Day. Eat it and hope for a good year!

Nengajo

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Nengajo – Happy New Year Greeting Cards. Photo Credit: Danny Choo at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

Nengajo are Japanese New Year greetings cards. There is a custom of sending postcard (nengajo) to friends and relatives here in Japan. It is similar to Christmas card, though nengajo is bit different than a usual Christmas card you send to your friends. Children wait for reading nengajo in the early morning on January 1. You can rely on Japanese post office; it assures you that your receiver will get the nengajo on time, yeah exactly on January 1.

Japanese New Year Decoration Ideas

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A Beautiful Kadomatsu. Photo Credit: pelican at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

You will be highly impressed seeing the Japanese New Year decoration at home and outside. Japanese shops and stores are decorated with traditional style decor ideas such as with ornaments made of pine, plum trees and bamboo. People get busy cleaning their houses; they want everything should be neat and clean!

Entrances of many stores, house and buildings are well decorated with Kadomatsu. This is a symbol of longevity. To make a complete kadomatsu you need to have three bamboo poles of different lengths which are usually cut diagonally. Here, sprays of plum trees and pine tree branches will be attached firmly to the bamboo poles with a new straw rope.

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Japanese New Year Decoration – Kagami Mochi at Kibitsu Jinja Shrine, Okayama, Japan. Photo Credit: pelican at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing.

We also hang Shimekazari on the top of the house entrance. The reason we do it is inviting the gods in for the New Year. It is a small rope made from rice straws and crafted zigzag shaped paper strips called shide. One can also add the daidai (Japanese bitter orange) in the Shimekazari. There is other type of Japanese New Year’s decoration which is called Kagami mochi. Two round mocha (rice cake) and daidai are needed to make this. A traditional ornamented Kagamo mocha looks very beautiful.

Happy New Year 2017!

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Lanterns at Meiji Jingu at Midnight on New Year’s Day. Photo Credit: john_v_mccollum at Flickr through Creative Commons Licensing

Happy New Year greetings from Japan! I wish you have a very good year and may you all be happy and strong. Celebrating New Year in Japan will be more than an average travel trip to Japan. Even though shops are closed during this holiday season (January 01) you can fully enjoy Japanese New Year by doing things that we do as part of our custom. I hope this article helps you to understand about the Japanese New Year celebrations and traditions. Thanks for reading. HAVE FUN!

Copyright 2014 @ takkhis